The application of next-generation sequencing to study congenital heart disease (CHD) is increasingly providing new insights into the causes and mechanisms of this prevalent birth anomaly. Whole-exome sequencing analysis identifies damaging gene variants altering single or contiguous nucleotides that are assigned pathogenicity based on statistical analyses of families and cohorts with CHD, high expression in the developing heart and depletion of damaging protein-coding variants in the general population. Gene classes fulfilling these criteria are enriched in patients with CHD and extracardiac abnormalities, evidencing shared pathways in organogenesis. Developmental single-cell transcriptomic data demonstrate the expression of CHD-associated genes in particular cell lineages, and emerging insights indicate that genetic variants perturb multicellular interactions that are crucial for cardiogenesis. Whole-genome sequencing analyses extend these observations, identifying non-coding variants that influence the expression of genes associated with CHD and contribute to the estimated ~55% of unexplained cases of CHD. These approaches combined with the assessment of common and mosaic genetic variants have provided a more complete knowledge of the causes and mechanisms of CHD. Such advances provide knowledge to inform the clinical care of patients with CHD or other birth defects and deepen our understanding of the complexity of human development. In this Review, we highlight known and candidate CHD-associated human genes and discuss how the integration of advances in developmental biology research can provide new insights into the genetic contributions to CHD.