Graphene and other two-dimensional materials offer a new approach to controlling mass transport at the nanoscale. These materials can sustain nanoscale pores in their rigid lattices and due to their minimum possible material thickness, high mechanical strength and chemical robustness, they could be used to address persistent challenges in membrane separations. Here we discuss theoretical and experimental developments in the emerging field of nanoporous atomically thin membranes, focusing on the fundamental mechanisms of gas- and liquid-phase transport, membrane fabrication techniques and advances towards practical application. We highlight potential functional characteristics of the membranes and discuss applications where they are expected to offer advantages. Finally, we outline the major scientific questions and technological challenges that need to be addressed to bridge the gap from theoretical simulations and proof-of-concept experiments to real-world applications.