© 2019, This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply. State-of-the-art lithium (Li)-ion batteries are approaching their specific energy limits yet are challenged by the ever-increasing demand of today’s energy storage and power applications, especially for electric vehicles. Li metal is considered an ultimate anode material for future high-energy rechargeable batteries when combined with existing or emerging high-capacity cathode materials. However, much current research focuses on the battery materials level, and there have been very few accounts of cell design principles. Here we discuss crucial conditions needed to achieve a specific energy higher than 350 Wh kg −1 , up to 500 Wh kg −1 , for rechargeable Li metal batteries using high-nickel-content lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides as cathode materials. We also provide an analysis of key factors such as cathode loading, electrolyte amount and Li foil thickness that impact the cell-level cycle life. Furthermore, we identify several important strategies to reduce electrolyte-Li reaction, protect Li surfaces and stabilize anode architectures for long-cycling high-specific-energy cells.