Controlled human infections provide opportunities to study the interaction between the immune system and malaria parasites, which is essential for vaccine development. Here, we compared immune signatures of malaria-naive Europeans and of Africans with lifelong malaria exposure using mass cytometry, RNA sequencing and data integration, before and 5 and 11 days after venous inoculation with Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites. We observed differences in immune cell populations, antigen-specific responses and gene expression profiles between Europeans and Africans and among Africans with differing degrees of immunity. Before inoculation, an activated/differentiated state of both innate and adaptive cells, including elevated CD161+CD4+ T cells and interferon-γ production, predicted Africans capable of controlling parasitemia. After inoculation, the rapidity of the transcriptional response and clusters of CD4+ T cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and innate T cells were among the features distinguishing Africans capable of controlling parasitemia from susceptible individuals. These findings can guide the development of a vaccine effective in malaria-endemic regions.