Fuelled by innovation, optical microscopy plays a critical role in the life sciences and medicine, from basic discovery to clinical diagnostics. However, optical microscopy is limited by typical penetration depths of a few hundred micrometres for in vivo interrogations in the visible spectrum. Optoacoustic microscopy complements optical microscopy by imaging the absorption of light, but it is similarly limited by penetration depth. In this Review, we summarize progress in the development and applicability of optoacoustic mesoscopy (OPAM); that is, optoacoustic imaging with acoustic resolution and wide-bandwidth ultrasound detection. OPAM extends the capabilities of optical imaging beyond the depths accessible to optical and optoacoustic microscopy, and thus enables new applications. We explain the operational principles of OPAM, its placement as a bridge between optoacoustic microscopy and optoacoustic macroscopy, and its performance in the label-free visualization of tissue pathophysiology, such as inflammation, oxygenation, vascularization and angiogenesis. We also review emerging applications of OPAM in clinical and biological imaging.