An effective vaccine to the antigenically diverse hepatitis C virus (HCV) must target conserved immune epitopes. Here, we investigate cross-neutralization of HCV genotypes by broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) encoded by the relatively abundant human gene family V H 1-69. We have deciphered the molecular requirements for cross-neutralization by this unique class of human antibodies from crystal structures of HCV E2 in complex with bNAbs. An unusually high binding affinity is found for germ line-reverted versions of VH1-69 precursor antibodies, and neutralization breadth is acquired during affinity maturation. Deep sequencing analysis of an HCV-immune B cell repertoire further demonstrates the importance of the V H 1-69 gene family in the generation of HCV bNAbs. This study therefore provides critical insights into immune recognition of HCV with important implications for rational vaccine design.