Recent efforts in malaria control have led to marked reductions in malaria incidence. However, new strategies are needed to sustain malaria elimination and eradication and achieve the World Health Organization goal of a malaria-free world. The development of highly effective vaccines would contribute to this goal and would be facilitated by a comprehensive understanding of humoral immune responses targeting Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax malaria. New tools are required to facilitate the identification of vaccine candidates and the development of vaccines that induce functional and protective immunity. Here we discuss recent published findings, and unpublished work presented at the 2016 Molecular Approaches to Malaria conference, that highlight advancements in understanding humoral immune responses in the context of vaccine development. Highlights include the increased application of ‘omics’ and ‘Big data’ platforms to identify vaccine candidates, and the identification of novel functions of antibody responses that mediate protection. The application of these strategies and a global approach will increase the likelihood of rapid development of highly efficacious vaccines.