Since many pulmonary diseases present with a variable regional involvement, modalities for assessment of regional lung function gained increasing attention over the last years. Together with lung perfusion and gas exchange, ventilation, as a result of the interaction of the respiratory pump and the lungs, is an indispensable component of lung function. So far, this complex mechanism is still mainly assessed indirectly and globally. A differentiation between the individual determining factors of ventilation would be crucial for precise diagnostics and adequate treatment. By dynamic imaging of the respiratory pump, the mechanical components of ventilation can be assessed regionally. Amongst imaging modalities applicable to this topic, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as a tool not relying on ionising radiation, is the most attractive. Recent advances in MRI technology have made it possible to assess diaphragmatic and chest wall motion, static and dynamic lung volumes, as well as regional lung function. Even though existing studies show large heterogeneity in design and applied methods, it becomes evident that MRI is capable to visualise pulmonary function as well as diaphragmatic and thoracic wall movement, providing new insights into lung physiology. Partly contradictory results and conclusions are most likely caused by technical limitations, limited number of studies and small sample size. Existing studies mainly evaluate possible imaging techniques and concentrate on normal physiology. The few studies in patients with lung cancer and emphysema already give a promising outlook for these techniques from which an increasing impact on improved and quantitative disease characterization as well as better patient management can be expected.