Ralph Bakshi was born on October 29, 1938, in then Haifa, British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel). In 1939, his family immigrated to New York City, and he grew up in Brooklyn. The family lived in a low-rent apartment, where Bakshi became fascinated with the urban milieu. As a child, he enjoyed comic books, and often dug through trash cans to find them.
At the age of 15, after discovering Gene Byrnes' Complete Guide to Cartooning at the public library, Bakshi took up cartooning to document his experiences and create fantasy-influenced artwork. He stole a copy of the book and learned every lesson in it. While attending Thomas Jefferson High School, he took little interest in academics, spending most of his time focusing on "broads, mouthing off, and doodling". After participating in a food fight and being caught smoking, Bakshi was sent to the principal's office. Believing Bakshi was unlikely to prosper at Thomas Jefferson, the principal transferred him to Manhattan's School of Industrial Art. In June 1956, Bakshi graduated from the school with an award in cartooning.
In the 1970s, he established an alternative to mainstream animation through independent and adult-oriented productions. Between 1972 and 2015, he directed ten theatrically released feature films, six of which he wrote. He has been involved in numerous television projects as director, writer, producer and animator.