Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) affects a large number of military personnel and civilians. Regenerating inner-ear cochlear hair cells (HCs) is a promising strategy to restore hearing after NIHL. In this review, we first summarize recent transcriptome profile analysis of zebrafish lateral lines and chick utricles where spontaneous HC regeneration occurs after HC damage. We then discuss recent studies in other mammalian regenerative systems such as pancreas, heart and central nervous system. Both spontaneous and forced HC regeneration occurs in mammalian cochleae in vivo involving proliferation and direct lineage conversion. However, both processes are inefficient and incomplete, and decline with age. For direct lineage conversion in vivo in cochleae and in other systems, further improvement requires multiple factors, including transcription, epigenetic and trophic factors, with appropriate stoichiometry in appropriate architectural niche. Increasing evidence from other systems indicates that the molecular paths of direct lineage conversion may be different from those of normal developmental lineages. We therefore hypothesize that HC regeneration does not have to follow HC development and that epigenetic memory of supporting cells influences the HC regeneration, which may be a key to successful cochlear HC regeneration. Finally, we discuss recent efforts in viral gene therapy and drug discovery for HC regeneration. We hope that combination therapy targeting multiple factors and epigenetic signaling pathways will provide promising avenues for HC regeneration in humans with NIHL and other types of hearing loss.