This paper is dedicated to the extensive review of state-of-the-art contactless energy transfer (CET) systems that are gaining increasing interest in the automatic machinery industries. We first introduce the circuit equivalent networks considered in the literature, and discuss the main operating principles. Possible circuital resonant solutions are also discussed together with the required compensating networks. Then we focus on the problem of transferring, at the maximum efficiency, high-power levels (of the order of 1 kW or higher), showing that highly coupled inductive links are needed, requiring to refrain from the resonance condition. These systems are usually referred to as CET systems, since the link distances are negligible with respect to the coils dimensions. The operating frequencies are of the order of tens to hundreds of kilohertz. The fundamental figures of merit are analytically defined and used to measure the actual limitations involved in this class of systems, including aspects related to realization feasibility with respect to voltages and currents limitations. Finally, state-of-the-art CET works are surveyed, and realistic applications for different operating frequencies are considered and critically compared.