He hailed from Qi 祁 in the commandery of Taiyuan 太原 (today's Qixian 祁縣, Shanxi) and was a nephew of Wang Yun 王允, Minister of Eduction (situ 司徒) of the Later Han dynasty 後漢 (25-220 CE). When the latter was killed by Li Jue 李傕 and Guo Si 郭汜, Wang Ling fled to his home town. Somewhat later he was recommended for official appointment and gained the post of governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Zhongshan 中山. The warlord Cao Cao 曹操 made him clerk of the Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang yuan 丞相掾)
When the latter's son Cao Pi assumed the title of emperor, Wang Li won the title of cavalier attendant-in-ordinary (sanji changshi 散騎常侍) and was appointed regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of Yanzhou 兖州. He participated in Zhang Liao's 張遼 campaign against the empire of Wu 吳 (222-280). For his heroism in the battle of Guangling 廣陵 he was given the title of Neighbourhood Marquis of Yicheng 宜城亭侯 and given the title of General Establishing Martiality (jianwu jiangjun 建武將軍). Emperor Cao Fang 曹芳 (r. 239-254) made him General Conquering the East (zhengdong jiangjun 征東將軍).
In 249 he commanded an army defeating Quan Cong 全琮, a general of the state of Wu, and was rewarded with the title of Township Marquis of Nanxiang 南鄉侯 and the that of Minister of Works (sikong 司空), shortly later that of Defender-in-chief (taiwei). In spite of these honours he planned with his brother-in-law, Linghu Yu 令狐愚, to replace the young Cao Fang by someone older who could ward off the growing dominance of the Sima 司馬 family. The plans came to light, and he poisoned himself.