The aim of this paper is to review the present status of novel MRI techniques as a new important instrument for functional ventilation imaging. The current status and future perspectives in research and clinical applications are summarized. Morphological lung imaging is based on chest radiography and computed tomography, whereas scintigraphy is used for ventilation imaging. During recent years, MRI has emerged as a new means for functional imaging of ventilation. Aerosolized contrast agents and oxygen are used in proton imaging, whereas non-proton imaging relies on fluorine compounds, such as sulfur hexafluoride and perfluorcarbons, or on hyperpolarized noble gases, such as helium-3 or xenon-129. All the gases are administered as inhaled "contrast agents" for imaging of the airways and airspaces. In general, straightforward images demonstrate the homogeneity of ventilation in a breath-hold and allow for determination of ventilated lung. The different properties of the different compounds enable the measurement of additional functional parameters. They comprise airspace size, regional oxygen partial pressure, and analysis of ventilation distribution, ventilation/perfusion ratios, and gas exchange, including oxygen uptake. Novel MRI techniques provide the potential for functional imaging of ventilation. The next steps include definition of the value and the potential of the different contrast mechanisms as well as determination of the significance of the functional information with regard to physiological research and patient management in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and others.