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20 Astounding Koi Fish Tattoo Designs with Meaning

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Looking for a tattoo option that works as a good luck charm? Look no further, the koi fish (or Japanese koi) is one of the most recognizable and iconic symbols of Asian tradition. Traditionally popularized, the vast array of koi fish tattoos you see today carry wonderful symbolism, and they look stunning. Foremost, a Koi fish tattoo symbolizes power since the Koi fish is known to overcome all challenges in life.

Going by popular consensus, the koi fish is most known for being seen in fountains due to their mixed colors. Koi fish are commonly spotted in shades of red, yellow (or gold), white, cream, black, or blue. Koi fish tattoos reflect their real-life variety in terms of beauty, colors, behavior, and, most importantly, symbolism.

In this article, based on extensive online research, I’ve shared the 20 most astounding koi fish tattoo designs along with the respective artist source. Remarkably, these striking designs of the Japanese koi are shown in different variations and, in some cases, elements, yet all exude one or more of the koi traits. These traits are mainly to do with power, perseverance, prosperity, and masculinity. There’s more on the incredible symbolism at the end of this article.

For now, without further ado, here are the top 20 koi fish tattoo designs that are currently trending online:

Koi Fish Tattoo Designs

#1. Red and Black Yin and Yang Tattoo 

Red and Black Yin and Yang Tattoo
Source: @cholly_boy via Instagram

This is a perfectly sized tattoo for the upper part of the inner forearm. Koi fish tattoos, especially the yin-yang (symbolizing unity in opposites) variants are ideal for this placement.

#2. Koi Fish and Monmon Cat Tattoo

Koi Fish and Monmon Cat Tattoo
Source: @eddieramirez_cts via Instagram

Horitomo’s style of tattoo designs popularly includes the cute Monmon cat. This depiction of the koi fish with the cat is awesome, and the leg placement is the perfect choice for it.

#3. Koi Fish Tattoo Sleeve

Koi Fish Tattoo Sleeve
Source: @jin_qchoi via Instagram

The orange koi fish and the 3D wave imagery look awesome in this sleeve tattoo. The hint of striking blue adds a touch of aqua to the imagery. The upward swimming koi represents swimming against the current with immense perseverance and determination.

#4. Little Koi Fish Forearm Tattoo

Little Koi Fish Forearm Tattoo
Source: @drenchedhands via Instagram

This cute koi in fine black and grey line work and shading is the perfect example of a subtle koi tattoo that runs downward. A downstream swimming koi represents the fish not having the power to overcome obstacles.

#5. Black & Grey Yin-Yang Koi Fish Tattoo

Black & Grey Yin-Yang Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @hiddenlairtattoo via Instagram

#6. Feminine Koi Fish Watercolor Tattoo

Feminine Koi Fish Watercolor Tattoo
Source: @hwyl.tattoo via Instagram

Want the perfect, permanent good luck charm? This elegant koi fish tattoo is best suitable for girls and women. In its watercolor format, this tattoo is sure to attract eyeballs as it’s placed perfectly at the upper inner forearm swimming upstream.

#7. Flowers and Koi Fish Tattoo

Flowers and Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @lord_yuli via Instagram

It’s usually the lotus that represents strength, beauty, and purity. However, any flower would complement a koi fish perfectly. The similarity of meaning between the elements makes them perfect for the imagery.

#8. Shoulder Yin-Yang Koi Fish Tattoo

Shoulder Yin-Yang Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @e.nal.tattoo via Instagram

The circular motion and shape of these fantastic koi fish tattoo designs make them perfect choices for shoulder placement.

#9. Detailed Koi Fish Tattoo

Detailed Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @tattoo_audist via Instagram

This koi fish is stunning. Its beauty lies not only in its symbolism but also in its aesthetic appeal. The koi fish depicted above looks like a blossoming flower in spring. It’s a downward swimming fish, meaning it doesn’t yet have sufficient strength to overcome obstacles. That in itself has personal implications to the wearer — you’re subdued, humble, and proud to be growing and learning in life. Or, it could mean you’re on your way back down after successfully reaching the top of the waterfall.

#10. Butterfly and Koi Fish Tattoo

Butterfly and Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @askal.inkz via Instagram

Combining other elements, especially natural ones like flowers or butterflies with koi, is a remarkable way to justify the whole symbolism.

#11. Koi Fish on Chest Tattoo

Koi Fish on Chest Tattoo
Source: @danb_tattoo via Instagram

A chest piece having a koi fish composition is a unique way of exhibiting body art. The above piece is beautiful and deeply symbolic.

#12. Realistic Koi Fish Tattoo on Arm

Realistic Koi Fish Tattoo on Arm
Source: @hongdamstudio via Instagram

The size and look of the above standalone koi fish tattoo are unbelievably realistic.

#13. Fineline Ying-Yang Tattoo

Fineline Ying-Yang Tattoo
Source: @jayprick_tattoos via Instagram

The amazing yin-yang koi featured on the woman’s upper arm is the result of intricate, fine line work using the best tattoo equipment

#14. Koi Fish Anime Tattoo

Koi Fish Anime Tattoo
Source: @heomidori via Instagram

Many of us love anime. Combine that passion with perfection from a symbol such as a koi fish with flowers, and the result is a fantastic tattoo design like the above.

#15. Tribal Koi Fish Tattoo Sleeve

Tribal Koi Fish Tattoo Sleeve
Source: @kiti_ta_tatau via Instagram

Tribal tattoos date back to ancient times. The full sleeve tattoo above shows several meaningful elements making up a spellbound tribal piece. The Budha, flower, tribal patterns and the koi fish all make up a unique Asian-inspired composition.

#16. Calf Koi Fish Tattoo

Calf Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @sleepy_tattoo via Instagram

The interesting thing about koi fish tattoos is that there’s something for everybody’s placement, including the lower legs.

#17. Koi and Peony Leg Sleeve Tattoo

Koi and Peony Leg Sleeve Tattoo
Source: @twistedhearttattoo via Instagram

As mentioned earlier, koi and flowers go hand in hand. This is more so when the flowers are popular in Asia, like the lotus or peony.

#18. White & Orange Koi Fish Tattoo

White & Orange Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @paulina4beauty via Instagram

This inner forearm piece extends to the wrist. It gives the visual effect of poster colors. The use of white ink is not frequented by most artists. Yet, when applied properly, it gives an astonishing effect.

#19. Cute Blue & Turquoise Koi Fish Tattoo

Cute Blue & Turquoise Koi Fish Tattoo
Source: @jdelatour.art via Instagram

This blue piece symbolizes masculinity and fertility. It’s a cute tattoo that also means calmness and serenity, just like the tranquil blue waters the fish swims in.

#20. Horimouja Koi and Lotus Tattoo On Upper Arm

Horimouja Koi and Lotus Tattoo On Upper Arm
Source: @lorenzolopezart via Instagram

Power, purity, and serenity are the theme of this intricate half sleeve tattoo. Love, commitment, and friendship are some more meanings associated with the Japanese Koi.

Koi Fish Tattoo Symbolism

There is a depth of meaning behind each koi fish tattoo. Let’s take a look at what those meanings are and why the symbolism is so special.

1. The Symbolism As Per Swimming Direction

There is a different meaning associated with each of the two (upward or downward) directions a koi fish swims.

  • Upstream Swimming Koi Fish

As mentioned alongside relevant images shared above, an upstream swimming koi fish shows strength, perseverance, and commitment to battle life’s struggles and obstacles. It also represents the ability to meet goals. By swimming upstream and against the rough water current, the fish is able to showcase that ability and strength.

  • Downstream Swimming Koi Fish

This direction of the fish while it swims represents a symbolism associated with the discovery stage of one’s life. You are exploring life and, at the moment, maybe unsure what your goals are. Such a phase in one’s life is associated with insufficient strength to fight obstacles and, thus, go against the current. 

On the contrary, enthusiasts go for such a tattoo because they see the positive in it. They consider themselves having reached the peak of a waterfall after fighting all the obstacles en route. Now is the time for them to enjoy the downward ride back home, whilst celebrating the success already achieved.

2. The Symbolism As Per Color Of The Koi Fish

Koi fish, among other reasons, are loved for their breathtaking colors. Each color represents a distinct meaning and symbolism. Here’s a look at the most common and popular koi fish color shades.

  • Gold

Koi fish that are gold in color or are a shade of gold with hints of yellow or orange tones are symbolic of the transformation of a koi fish into a golden dragon. As with the golden dragon, the meanings associated with koi fish are similar. These meanings include the strength to prosper and overcome life’s obstacles, good luck, monetary wealth, and the similar.

  • Black

Due to its connotation of masculinity and fatherhood, black is a color for a koi fish tattoo that is preferred mainly by men. Other than those specific masculine meanings, like with all other koi fish, the black ones too symbolize the strength to overcome battles and obstacles.

  • Blue 

Blue koi fish is similar to black in terms of symbolism. The additional trait of a blue koi fish is the meaning “calmness.” This has to do with the calmness, serenity, and quiet of the blue waters. Men who take pride in their fatherhood and great strength often opt for a blue koi fish tattoo.

  • Red

As with the color red in general, red koi fish similarly represent love. But that‘s not all, and they also symbolize power, feminine fertility, and bravery. The red koi fish tattoo is a hugely popular choice among enthusiasts

  • White

If you’re a career or business-oriented person looking for good luck or success in your profession, a white koi fish tattoo will take you a long way. It doesn’t have to be entirely white, the fish could have white alongside another color. A white koi fish symbolizes transformation, significant growth, and a new beginning in one’s life.

3. The Symbolism As Per Design Of The Koi Fish Tattoo

There are different designs of koi fish tattoos. The most popular among them are the yin-yang, lotus, and dragon designs. Each of these designs adds a personalized meaning to the tattoo.

  • Yin-Yang

As mentioned earlier in the article, the yin-yang is a representation of the good and bad and duality and harmony. Those attributes clubbed with the koi fish’ general association with perseverance, ability to fight obstacles, and capability to reach goals make these tattoos stronger and deeper in meaning.

The typical depiction of yin-yang tattoos embodies a pair of koi fish (usually black and white) in a circular formation (the yin-yang symbol), with one tailgating the other. The shape alternatively can take the form of an infinite loop instead of a circle.

  • Dragon

The meaning behind the dragon and the koi fish aren’t entirely similar, but they do have enough similarity to depict positive transformation and rebirth. In addition to that, each depicts power, strength, ability to meet goals, perseverance, growth, and the like.

  • Lotus (or Butterfly)

Every lotus flower as we know it has a breathtaking transformation story. It starts as a not-so-appealing plant in muddy waters yet grows and transforms into one of nature’s beautiful wonders. It, thus, makes sense to club the koi fish and lotus together to form a tattoo with a deeper meaning. Butterflies, similarly to the lotus flower, can be included with koi fish tattoos as elements that enhance the meaning, which has a lot to do with growth, transformation, and rebirth.

  • Tribal 

Tribal tattoos are often selected as they tell tales of the wearer’s culture and heritage. When combined with koi fish elements, the meaning of the tattoos is reinforced, especially if the culture and heritage being talked about are Chinese or Japanese. On the flip side, being artsy enough to transform your design, be it koi fish, into a tribal pattern adds visual appeal and a sense of quirky abstractness.

Conclusion

There are various meanings associated with koi fish tattoos. As we saw, the depth of the meaning changes by altering the color, design, or swim direction of the fish. You could notch up the meaning a few steps further by adding an element like a lotus or a butterfly, among other such options. Other than the meaning, koi fish are just simply beautiful to depict as body art. So, why not talk to your artist and come up with a watercolor style yin-yang koi fish depiction or something realistic for that matter! Your imagination and creativity can significantly enhance any design.  

About Author

Jonathan Corby "Jonny" is a guy who is passionate about Tattooing and successfully running a Tattoo Studio in NY. Through my journey as a Tattoo Artist I have made unforgettable memories. This irrational poetry and sense of freedom of art on skin has given a blissfull experience to my life. Each Tattoo has a story behind it; Lets share one!