Perinatal asphyxia often results in neonatal cerebral hypoxia-ischemia (HI), which is associated with high mortality and severe long-term neurological deficits in newborns. Currently, there are no effective drugs to mitigate the functional impairments post-HI. Previous studies have shown that fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) has a potential neuroprotective effect against brain injury. However, the effect of FGF21 on neonatal HI brain injury is unclear. In the present study, both in vivo and in vitro models were used to assess whether recombinant human FGF21 (rhFGF21) could exert a neuroprotective effect after HI and explore the associated mechanism. The results showed that the rhFGF21 treatment remarkably reduced the infarct volume, ameliorated the body weight and improved the tissue structure after HI in neonatal rats. In addition, the rhFGF21 treatment lengthened the running endurance times in the rotarod test and decreased the mean escape latencies and increased the number of platform crossings in the Morris water maze test at 21 d post-HI insult. In contrast, the FGFR1 inhibitor PD173074 and PI3K inhibitor LY294002 partially reversed these therapeutic effects. In isolated primary cortical neurons, the rhFGF21 treatment protected primary neurons from oxygen-glucose deprivation (OGD) insult by inhibiting neuronal apoptosis and promoting neuronal survival. Both our in vivo and in vitro results reveal that rhFGF21 could inhibit neuronal apoptosis by activating the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway via FGF21/FGFR1/β-klotho complex formation. Therefore, rhFGF21 may be a promising therapeutic agent for promoting functional recovery after HI-induced neonatal brain injury.