In Seoul, South Korea, young people are obsessed with tattoos just like they are in the US. People are getting and giving tattoos in the country more than ever before! It might surprise you to learn that it’s illegal to tattoo in South Korea. To be clear, it’s not illegal to have a tattoo. It’s illegal for tattoo artists to give tattoos. Tattoos are highly discouraged and if you plan on serving in the military, they’re forbidden on soldiers. Foreign teachers who want to come to teach in the country will not be taken seriously if they have visible tattoos. It’s a whole thing. That’s not stopping tattoo artists from doing what they love and creating some of the most thrilling designs in the world. Although it’s against the law, the government doesn’t necessarily do parlor raids. That doesn’t mean that getting a tattoo in South Korea won’t cost you extra. Because the practice is technically illegal, tattoos can cost 100 times more than you would pay in the US. However, it would probably be worth it because these artists are pushing the boundaries of conventional tattoo design, favoring maximal color on minimal designs. Many of these artists also specialize in photorealistic tattoos that will blow your mind. We decided to bring you 35 tattoos by Korean artists that show the diversity in style, expertise in execution, and creativity that make these artists world-class.
Wow! Look at the deep, rich colors used inside this space helmet. This very fun tattoo has so much going on in such a small space. We love how the galaxy seems to ooze out of the helmet and onto the arm. A blast!
34. Blue Fire
This tattoo certainly leaves a cool impression. We love the icy blue color on the petals of the rose and how it contrasts with the black ink that comprises the stem and flame.
33. Cute Floral Design
This very sharp design was designed by Medieval motifs according to the artist. The use of color here is fun without being over the top.
32. Use Your Noggin
Because of the politics around tattooing in South Korea, many Korean artists travel and tattoo abroad. This tattoo was done in Sydney, Australia. It’s a very cute little brain that seems to have outgrown his skull.
31. A Pretty Pinwheel
What a playful and bright tattoo of a pinwheel. This amazing tattoo doesn’t rely on black ink at all! Instead of harsh lines, bright color is the preferred method for many tattoo artists.
30. A Whispering Moth
How cute is this stick and poke butterfly? This tattoo is so understated and beautiful. It almost looks like a little stamp.
29. An Impassioned Rose
Korean tattoo artists aren’t afraid to color outside the lines to create stunning tattoo designs. This gorgeous fine line rose is highlighted by a very cool looking flame that has an ombre effect. We love this!
This adorable tattoo of the Teletubbies looks like it’s from a children’s coloring book. The design of the tattoo conveys the innocence and playfulness of children.
27. The Coolest Snowflake
The crystals of this snowflake look super sharp. The use of blue, purple, and pink to color and shade the design gives it an overall feel of icy cool.
Here’s another example of photorealism in a tattoo design. This tattoo looks just like oil paint smeared on a canvas. The vivid color and perfect shading is something to behold.
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25. A B X Y
If you’ve ever held a game controller, you likely know these four letters. This tattoo recreates the buttons on many gaming controllers. For the gamers out there, this would be a fun tattoo.
24. The Kiss
Korean tattoo artists are pushing the envelope for how tattoos can look. This stunning dotwork tattoo features two people about to kiss and is framed neatly in a square frame.
23. Groovy Coral
This rainbow-infused coral with little bubbles is magical. Really great blending of color really makes this tattoo pop.
22. Look to the Stars
This nighttime landscape is truly magnificent. Look how small, fine, and sharp the yellow lines and dots are that form the constellation. Breathtaking.
21. A Snake in Blue
This indigo snake tattoo looks like it’s made of jewels. Each scale of this snake has been carefully and uniquely tattooed. A true work of art.
20. Look at Me
We get My Little Pony vibes from these eyes. A Korean artist completed this tattoo for a client in Los Angeles.
19. Our Solar System
Have you ever seen a solar system this stylishly represented? This is incredible! There’s a completely new design for each and every planet. What a fun tattoo for a stargazer.
Crystals are not only beautiful, but they also are symbols of healing and positive energy. These super cute, fine line crystals are stunning.
These three tattoos are recreations and mini masterpieces. Each tattoo is an impression of a David Hockney painting. One of the best examples of how Korean artists are taking the tattoo game to a whole new level.
16. A Mother’s Love
Here’s a very sweet design on a mom who’s gotten her son’s handwriting tattooed. The ultra-fine linework here is remarkable.
Cuteness alert! This super cute tattoo of a spitz is a joy to behold. This is a handpoke, or stick and poke, tattoo that’s perfectly done. What a sweet little scene.
Tattooing doesn’t get any finer than this. This incredibly sharp tattoo features just black and red ink. The snake with two heads is somehow beautiful despite being a snake!
13. Hot Air Balloons
Up up and away! This whimsical hot air balloon design incorporates so many different techniques that are all done so well. Shading, color blending, clean lines, and much more give this tattoo a lot of visual interest without being too busy.
12. A Betta Fish
We’re not fish experts, but we think this brilliantly colored tattoo is a betta fish. This tattoo looks like a well-done pencil drawing with fantastic movement.
Have you ever seen a tattoo this delicate? The pink and blue clouds are light as air and the mini airplane looks so real that it’s uncanny. This is one of our favorite tattoos on the list.
10. A Little Furry Friend
Aw! This precious little chipmunk tattoo looks like it’s been airbrushed on instead of tattooed. Tattoos that are done in this style are adorable, but it will need to be retouched over time.
This tattoo of a universe inside a universe makes you think. The blocks of color appear as if applied by palette knife. It creates an amazing effect and must have been pretty difficult to get right.
8. Romantic and Serene
This ultra-romantic and delicate tattoo of a crescent moon with flowers is accented by a smokey looking cloud. It’s as if you’re looking at the reflection of the moon in a pond with floating flowers.
7. A Peaceful Whale
This strangely calming tattoo design of a whale with flowers is magnificent. It’s a masterclass in shading and balance. The crisp, clean lines give this tattoo a polished finish.
Wow! This very clean diamond is created without a hard line. In many American tattoo parlors, the shape would have been outlined in black or another bold color. By letting the interior of the diamond meet the edge, it creates a very cool effect.
5. Peek Through
This tattoo frames the trees and night sky in a way that looks like you’re peering through a crevice. While the tattoo’s design consists of primarily cool colors, there are some hints of orange and red that help this tattoo really stand out.
The band Coldplay has inspired this tattoo and it’s based on the album cover for Parachutes. This very clean, small tattoo has so much warmth in the colors of the globe.
3. Keep on with the Whales
The last whale tattoo we saw was a big one done only in black. This very colorful and very tiny tattoo of a whale is so inspired. We love the way the purple and green inks complement each other. There’s so much detail in this micro tattoo. Just look at the bubbles coming from the whale’s fins.
Wow. This jewel tattoo looks magical. The way the artist has created the refracted light in the various shapes inside it is genius. We also love the super fine line abstract pattern above and below the precious stone.
1. Don’t Touch
How cute is this hand poke tattoo of a cat? We love this little guy. The design creates a sort of diagram for the best places to pet the cat. There are a couple of good zones and a few places your paws are not welcome. A very fun and playful tiny tattoo.
Koren tattoo artists don’t box themselves into one style. Instead, they explore all the possibilities and boundaries that tattoos can go. Because of South Korea’s stigma around tattoos, the artists have been resourceful and creative in making designs that prove tattooing should have a home there. These artists are doing some of the most forward-thinking tattoo designs in the world.