Malaria is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally, and effective vaccines are urgently needed. Malaria vaccine approaches can be broadly grouped as pre-erythrocytic, blood stage and transmission blocking. This review focuses on blood-stage vaccines, and considers the evidence supporting the development of blood-stage vaccines, the advantages and challenges of this approach, potential targets, human vaccine studies and future directions. There is a strong rationale for the development of vaccines based on antigens of blood-stage parasites. Symptomatic malaria is caused by blood-stage parasitemia and acquired immunity in humans largely targets blood-stage antigens. Several candidate vaccines have proved efficacious in animal models and at least one vaccine showed partial efficacy in a clinical trial. At present, all leading candidate blood-stage antigens are merozoite proteins, located on the merozoite surface or within the apical organelles. Major challenges and priorities include overcoming antigenic diversity, identification of protective epitopes, understanding the nature and targets of protective immune responses, and defining antigen combinations that give the greatest efficacy. Additionally, objective criteria and approaches are needed to prioritize the large number of candidate antigens, and strong candidates need to be tested in clinical trials as quickly as possible.