Originally from Tongxiang in the Zhejiang province, he studied Western painting and music at Zhejiang First Normal College. One of his teachers was Li Shutong (1880-1942), a painter and pioneering newspaper artist, who later became a Buddhist priest under the name Hong Yi. He then studied at the Kawabata Painting School in Tokyo, Japan, where he discovered manga art in the tradition of the painters Hokusai and Takehisa Yumeji. Upon his return in China in 1922, he worked as a teacher in Shanghai, Zhejiang and Chongqing.
He also was an editor with the Kaiming Press. It was at this time that he started to publish his woodcut illustrations with mordant social commentaries in newspapers and journals. Feng Zikai is widely considered as the founder of modern cartoons in China through the publication of his cartoon series 'ZiKai Manhua' ('The Manhua of Feng Zikai') in Zheng Zhenduo's magazine Wenxue Zhoubao (Literature Weekly) in 1925. The term "manhua" had existed since the 18th century and literally means "impromptu sketches". Feng's fame drew attention to the word, and because of the similarities between his work and Japanese manga, the phrase "Zikai Manhua" became common for cartoon art. From then on, the genre also became more and more regarded as a specialized art form.
As an essayist, he wrote about topics like literature, painting, music, translation and calligraphy. His interest in foreign graphic arts was also evident in his articles. He not only wrote about Japanese manga, but also about the caricatures of the French artist Honoré Daumier, the British humor magazine Punch and Soviet poster art. He described manhua as a "painting style that employs a simplified brushwork to express meaning." He also defined the subgenres ganxiang (imaginary), fengci (satirical) and xuanchuan (propagandistic). Several collections of his essays were published during his life.
Feng Zikai's longest running picture series 'Hu Sheng Hua Ji' was created between 1927 and 1973. After his hometown had been destroyed in November 1937, he began to draw anti-Japanese cartoons. Feng Zikai's drawings have been collected in books like 'Zikai Cartoons' and 'Children's Cartoons'. He also continued teaching and publishing, and held various political posts after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, including that of chairman of the Shanghai Artists Assocation. Long after his death in 1975, Feng's essays and cartoons are still popular with the Chinese public. Zikai was a huge influence on Chen Huiling. His name lives on in the Feng Zikai Chinese Children's Picture Book Award, established in 2009.