As nanotechnologies advance into clinical medicine, novel methods for applying nanomedicine to cardiovascular diseases are emerging. Extensive research has been undertaken to unlock the complex pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. However, this complexity presents challenges to develop effective imaging and therapeutic modalities for early diagnosis and acute intervention. The choice of ligand-receptor system vastly influences the effectiveness of nanomedicine. This review collates current ligand-receptor systems used in targeting functionalized nanoparticles for diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis. Our focus is on the binding affinity and selectivity of ligand-receptor systems, as well as the relative abundance of targets throughout the development and progression of atherosclerosis. Antibody-based targeting systems are currently the most commonly researched due to their high binding affinities when compared with other ligands, such as antibody fragments, peptides, and other small molecules. However, antibodies tend to be immunogenic due to their size. Engineering antibody fragments can address this issue but will compromise their binding affinity. Peptides are promising ligands due to their synthetic flexibility and low production costs. Alongside the aforementioned binding affinity of ligands, the choice of target and its abundance throughout distinct stages of atherosclerosis and thrombosis is relevant to the intended purpose of the nanomedicine. Further studies to investigate the components of atherosclerotic plaques are required as their cellular and molecular profile shifts over time.