She was born on October 10, 1957 in Niigata, Japan. Takahashi showed little interest in manga during her childhood; though she was said to occasionally doodle in the margins of her papers while attending Niigata Chūō High School, Takahashi's interest in manga did not start until later. In an interview in 2000, Takahashi said that she had always wanted to become a professional comic author since she was a child.During her university years, she enrolled in Gekiga Sonjuku, a manga school founded by Kazuo Koike, manga author of Crying Freeman and Lone Wolf and Cub. Under his guidance Rumiko Takahashi began to publish her first dōjinshi creations in 1975, such as Bye-Bye Road and Star of Futile Dust. Koike often urged his students to create well-thought out, interesting characters, and this influence would greatly impact Rumiko Takahashi's works throughout her career.
Takahashi's professional career began in 1978. Her first published work was the one-shot Katte na Yatsura, for which she was awarded the Shogakkan New Comics Award. Later that same year, she began her first serialized story Urusei Yatsura, a comedic science fiction story. She had difficulty meeting deadlines to begin with, so chapters were published sporadically until 1980. During the run of the series, she shared a small apartment with two assistants, and often slept in a closet due to a lack of space. During the same year, she published Time Warp Trouble, Shake Your Buddha, and the Golden Gods of Poverty in Shōnen Sunday magazine, which would remain the home to most of her major works for the next twenty years.
During 1980, Takahashi started her second major series, Maison Ikkoku, in Big Comic Spirits magazine. Written for an older audience, Maison Ikkoku is a romantic comedy, and Takahashi used her own experience living in an apartment to create the series.