Published on May 10, 2023

Do you feel like you’re battling upstream in search of the perfect Koi Fish Tattoo Design?

Well, you don’t have to battle against the currents any long, so hang tight and get ready to have your struggling journey transformed into an adventure of wonder and awe as we take a look at the best Koi Fish Tattoo designs we could find. 

Koi Fish History 

The Koi is a fish deeply rooted in Asian Culture. The ancestors of the Koi are believed to have been first domesticated in China for food, but, in modern times, are more recognizable with Japan for their elegant colors and distinct patterns. 

While Koi are more commonly associated with being captive in people’s decorative ponds, their wild ancestors, like Salmon, are known for being tough and resilient fish that swim upstream.

This determination in being able to battle against the currents gives the Koi its symbolic imagery of perseverance, strength, and a relentless pursuit of personal goals. 

There’s a good chance that your knowledge of the Koi stems from the ancient tale of the Koi fish that battled against the currents of the Yellow River in China.

Having shown his determination, the Gods rewarded the Koi by transforming it into a dragon that soared into the heavens. 

The tale is one of unparalleled determination and resolve that has now become synonymous with the imagery of the Koi and perhaps now you want to carry that symbolism with you wherever you go.

So, let’s embark on our own journey upstream and see if we can be rewarded with inspiration on just what kind of Koi Fish tattoo might suit you the best. 

Koi Fish Tattoo Designs

While a Koi Fish might seem like a simplistic idea for a tattoo, never underestimate the creativity of tattoo artists.

What might seem like an upstream battle at first, there is a surprising amount of variety when it comes to Koi fish tattoo designs, so let's dive in and see.

1. Single Koi Fish Tattoo

Single Koi Fish Tattoo ideas

Photo credit: Panumart Tattoo

Starting off relatively simply here we have a single Koi Fish in a realistic design.

A standard Koi fish comes with it all the symbolism attached without being too specific with the likes of raging currents or transformation symbolism.

Koi fish come in many colors and patterns, so it’s entirely up to you what you want to go for.

Blacks, Whites, Oranges, Yellows, a mixture or two or all, there’s a lot of variety to choose from, and of course, you can always choose colors that aren’t native to the fish itself and opt for something more fantastical. 

2. Yin-Yang Koi Fish Tattoo Idea

Yin-Yang Koi Fish Tattoo Idea in black, white and red colours

Photo credit: Our Mindful Life

Here’s a cool idea, with the Kois association with Chinese culture, this artist has blended two Chinese symbols into one. Here, the Kois are representing Yin and Yang , the two opposite forces in Chinese philosophy. 

The black Koi representing Yin (traditionally female), with the white representing Yang (traditionally male). Notice how the artist made sure to integrate the opposing colors onto each fish through the Kois distinctive pattern near their heads.

This is appropriate not only with the Kois anatomy but also through the symbolic meaning of Yin-Yang, where a small piece of the opposing colors are present within each side to symbolize how neither side is absolute and contains a little of the opposite within. 

3. Upstream Koi Fish Tattoo Design

upstream koi fish tattoo on the upper arm of a young man

Photo credit: Pinterest

If you’re looking to carry the symbolism of resilience and resolve with you, then the imagery of the Koi battling upstream might well be best suited for you.

Just like in the age-old tale, one lone Koi fish battled his way to the top while all his kin surrendered to the current.

When times are tough, you can gaze upon your Koi fish tattoo to seek encouragement that no matter how tough it may seem, you will be rewarded if you persevere, or your tattoo can be a constant reminder of the struggles you have already conquered and the Koi is the representation of tough times passed. 

4. Traditional Painting Koi Fish Tattoo

Traditional Painting Koi Fish Tattoo

Photo credit: Reddit

How about turning one art form into another? There are plenty of traditional Japanese and Chinese paintings of the Koi fish because of their rich symbolism in their cultures, so why not transfer the painting style into a tattoo?

This incredible Japanese-style painting depicts a grizzled-looking Koi battling against the currents coming down the mountain with waves inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa painting. 

5. Koi-Dragon Tattoo

Koi-Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: Behance

If you’ve made it this far then I'm positive you’re well caught up on the Koi changing to a Dragon story by now.

So, if the story inspires you, why not commemorate it with this design of a Koi mid-transformation? The Koi-Dragon embodies all the symbolism of the transformation that comes with the perseverance of hard-fought battles.

But if you’re looking for something a little more complete, check out fully formed Dragon tattoo ideas here.

6. Magikarp Tattoo

Magikarp Tattoo with blue sea waves

Photo credit:

Fan of Pokemon? Good news, so am I. Pokemon has no shortage of real-life and mythical inspired animals in its roster, and the Koi that turns into a dragon is no different…. Sort of.

While seaking might seem like it’s the Koi fish-themed animal from the first generation of Pokemon (He is allegedly based off of the Azuma Nishiki fish), it’s actually Magikarp who is the OG Koi in the Pokemon series. Don't believe me? Magikarps Japanese name is コイキング, Koikingu. I think I can rest my case.

Magikarps evolution is an homage to the old tale as the once practically useless Pokemon transforms into the fearsome and powerful Gyarados. The only problem here being Gyarados isn’t a dragon-type Pokemon.

However, this is due to his water type being attributed to Magikarp being a fish and the flying aspect due to some versions of the tale stating the Koi fish jumped up a waterfall like it was flying, which led to its transformation. 

Where To Place Your Koi Fish Tattoo

Naturally, the design of any tattoo isn't the only thing that's important when it comes to inspiration.

The placement is as equally important as some designs suit different parts of your bodily canvas. Let’s take a look at what parts of the body might suit each style best. 

1. Koi Fish Tattoo on Ankle

Koi Fish Tattoo on Ankle

Photo credit:

The ankle is one of the best places to get any tattoo if you’re looking for something a little modest and easy to cover. However, take a look at this design.

The Koi fish anatomy offers a slick design choice as it can wrap around the ball of your ankle elegantly as if the fish is circling around its pond.

While the Koi fish isn’t exactly connected to the symbolism, it does give off a sort of ‘circle of life’ feel to it. 

2. Arm and Shoulder With Koi Fish Tattoo

Arm and Shoulder With Koi Fish Tattoo

Photo credit: Cuded

The arm is an obvious choice for most people when it comes to any tattoo, but I chose this design based on how stunning and unique it is.

The Koi fish has a blend of 5 different colors, blue for the eye but the seamless transition from white to yellow to orange to red as you go down its body is breathtaking and the choice to blacken out the arm really makes it a jaw dropping piece. 

3. Koi Fish Tattoo on Thigh

Koi Fish Tattoo on Thigh

Photo credit:

The words Koi fish and sexy aren’t exactly synonymous, but yet here we are.

If you’re looking to boost your sex appeal, a Koi fish tattoo on the thigh can yield surprising results.

This Koi fish and cherry blossom duo looks both feminine and beautiful and will definitely draw a lustful gaze or two on those hot summer days. 

4. Back Koi Fish Tattoo

Koi Fish Tattoo on the back of a girl

Photo credit: Our Mindful Life

While researching the ideas for this article, I came across no shortage of mesmerizing full-spread back Koi fish tattoos, but I settled with sharing this one for its charming beauty.

I’m not sure what the artist's interpretation is, but to me, It’s like an image of two lovers in an elegant dance with the flowers depicting their blossoming romance. 

5. Koi Fish Tattoo On The Ear

Koi Fish Tattoo On The Ear

Photo credit: @five30tattoos

Simple elegance is my thing, and while behind-the-ear tattoos don't particularly speak to me, maybe it does for you.

The behind-the-ear tattoo style, much like the ankle or wrist, is a great choice for those who like minimalism but with a touch of class, and who could argue with this neat little Koi behind the ear.

It’s small yet sophisticated and adds just a touch of elegance to your look. 

6. The Whole Shebang Koi Fish Tattoo Idea

The Whole Shebang Koi Fish Tattoo Idea

Photo credit: Next Luxury

Go hard or go home, eh? Only the brave dare go this far, but if you’re captivated by the Koi and want and are a hard-core tattooist then this might just be for you.

While it might give off Yakuza vibes, I think the world is a little more accepting of hard-core tattoos these days and won't think of you as a hardened criminal.

So if you have the time, money, and most importantly, the pain tolerance, maybe, just maybe, this is the piece you’ve been looking for. 


If you made it this far, then congratulations. You’ve battled against the raging current and showed your resolve.

I’m hoping that, like the Gods in the story, I’ve rewarded you with the knowledge you desired on your journey to getting the perfect idea for your Koi fish tattoo. 

With its profound symbolism of resoluteness and unyielding resolve, the Koi is the quintessential partner for those looking to tackle seemingly unreachable goals.

Just as the Koi fish transformed himself into a mystical Dragon, then perhaps you, too, want to transform your body into a work of art. But just like the Koi, it doesn’t come easy.

After the inking process, your body can feel sore and irritable, so to rejuvenate your skin and reduce pain as quickly as possible, check out these Tattoo aftercare products and transform your recover process to one that's most comfortable and painless as possible. 

But if a Koi isn’t the ideal symbolic companion you’re looking for, we have a range of other symbolically relevant comrades for you to choose from our tattoo gallery here.

Frequently Asked Questions Related To Koi Fish Tattoo Ideas

What Is The Spiritual Meaning Of The Koi Fish?

The koi fish is revered for its spiritual symbolism, representing hope, luck, success, ambition, and strength.

Originating from a legendary tale where koi fish swim upstream and transform into dragons, they embody the virtues of perseverance and overcoming adversity.

Today, koi are seen as symbols of good fortune and resilience, often chosen by those who resonate with the fish's journey against the current, symbolizing personal triumph and wealth.

Why Do So Many People Get Koi Fish Tattoos?

Koi fish tattoos are popular due to their rich symbolic significance and beautiful imagery. They represent transformation, perseverance, strength, and luck.

This symbolism resonates with many individuals who see their life experiences and challenges reflected in the journey of the koi fish.

As a result, a koi fish tattoo often signifies personal growth, overcoming difficulties, and the pursuit of success, appealing to a broad spectrum of people worldwide.

Should A Koi Fish Tattoo Face Up Or Down?

The direction of a koi fish in a tattoo can significantly influence its meaning. A koi swimming upstream is often used to symbolize a person who is currently facing challenges with courage and resilience.

Conversely, a koi swimming downstream may represent someone who has overcome their hardships and is moving forward in life.

The orientation of the koi can thus reflect personal experiences and the wearer’s journey through adversity.

What To Pair With A Koi Fish Tattoo?

Pairing a koi fish tattoo with complementary symbols can enhance its meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Common elements include the yin-yang symbol, representing balance; lotus flowers, symbolizing purity and spiritual awakening; water, reflecting adaptability and life force; and fire, indicating transformation and energy.

These symbols can deepen the significance of the koi tattoo, creating a cohesive and powerful design that resonates with personal values and aspirations.

What Does The Colour Of A Koi Tattoo Mean?

The color of a koi fish tattoo can vary widely, each carrying its own symbolism. Blue and white koi generally represent the son of a family, conveying tranquility, peace, and calmness.

Yellow and orange koi, often depicted to mimic gold, symbolize fortune and wealth.

Known as 'yamabuki' in Japanese, these gold-colored koi are especially prized for their association with prosperity and are a popular choice for those wishing to attract good luck and financial success through their tattoo.

Ryan S. Mills
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