South Korean Tattoos

South Korean Tattoos

Photo from Instagram @chenjie.newtattoo

While one can argue over the longevity and staying power of fine line tattoos, there is no denying that when done right they can be incredibly aesthetically pleasing. One of the areas of the world driving the delicate subtlety trend over the past few years is South Korea.

The practice of tattooing is still officially illegal in South Korea unless performed by someone with a medical license, and showing tattoos in public has long been taboo. However, young people feel that the ban Рand the social stigma Рare outdated. 

Estimates put the number of people working in the tattooing industry in South Korea at about 20,000 in 2020. Korean tattoo artists have millions of followers on Instagram, and many all over the world are convinced that the style that has become their signature is the only style of tattoo they would ever get, or have even traveled to Seoul especially for a piece.

Photo via Instagram @ann_tattooo


The style is mostly characterised by petite, fine line tattoos. They are often coupled with watercolour effects, or light and airy pastels. Often, there is no outline, but the borders of the motive are made up by the artist’s use of colours. The particular delicacy of the South Korean style has taken the world by storm, but it is also a big part of the art of tattooing gaining mainstream attention – and even more approval – back home.¬†

Shifting perceptions

In Korea, tattoos were traditionally associated with gangster culture and violence. However, the appearance of softer motives such as flowers, animals and landscapes are slowly shifting public perception around the practice. Many artists also take traditional colours and motives from Korean painting and transform them into works of art on the skin, bringing together traditional drawing and subculture. This is perhaps also helping older generations become (albeit ever so slowly) more positively inclined towards (or at least not horrified by) the practice. Meanwhile, artists active in Seoul say that nearly 80% of all their clients are foreigners who want to get a ‚ÄėKorean style‚Äô tattoo.¬†

‘Sentimental’ tattoos

Photo from Instagram @tattsha

A genre generally referred to as the ‚Äėsentimental tattoo‚Äô has also evolved in the South Korean capital. Here fine line portraits are created based on photographs of loved ones, and stylised images of beloved pets are inked in soft colours and contours. Think gatherings around the Christmas tree wearing in the 1980s, paw beans on cats frolicking about in meadows, or Goldendoodle portraits encircled by a wreath of delicate watercolour flowers.¬†

Recently, there has also been a move away from daintier watercolours from some artists, favouring bolder hues and playing with light in different ways. 

While the Japanese may have coined Kawaii, Koreans also do cute really well. Sweet, cartoon-like tattoos of animals are also prevalent in Korean tattooing, and artists put their very own personal spin on it, often adding slightly bolder lines to enhance the stylised look. Others make some of the finest and most minimal art ever seen on skin, while others still use bolder colours to make impressive large-scale pieces. So to say that South Korean tattooing is just one thing or style would, of course, be false. However, it is definitely one of the most vibrant and interesting tattooing scenes right now, and will continue to evolve throughout 2022 and the years to come.


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