As tattoos have become increasingly mainstream, the art form has diversified—a slew of new styles, hot spots, and artists continue to change the game. But there’s no question among collectors that a lot of this incredible new work has come from South Korea in spite of the country’s persistent stigma around tattoos.
Tattooing is legal in South Korea, but only under the condition that the artist holds a medical license—something that virtually no tattooers have, as reported by Allure. The result, therefore, has unsurprisingly been an underground industry, where South Korean tattoo artists are forced to operate in clandestine conditions. Compound this with the art form’s historically criminal link, and the result has been a less-than-favorable attitude towards tattoos.
But ever so slowly, the local outlook on tattoos is shifting. Beloved Korean entertainers like BIGBANG frontman G-Dragon and BTS star Jungkook have been spotted (or rumored to have been spotted) with ink recently. And while they’re not representative of the entire population, what they do represent is a growing desire among South Korean youth to express themselves with the art form. As the industry—underground or otherwise—continues to grow, these are the South Korean tattoo artists you’ll want to keep tabs on.
If you’re craving a bold, colorful tattoo, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an artist who can deliver a design as on the nose as Zihee’s. The Seoul-based tattooer practices a number of different styles in their work: Take a look at their Instagram and you’ll see everything from the speckled detailing of dotwork designs to the distorted images popularized by glitch. But their most popular style, by far, is the color-blocking seen above.
Banul’s take on tattoos is bright, colorful, and often quite complex. Her designs usually include a mix of linework and watercolor elements, like in the Peter Pan piece above. (Sidenote: If you like that, check out our full gallery of Disney-inspired tattoos.) Yet you can also find her dabbling in more minimalistic designs with some text-based pieces. Plus, her illustrations are as versatile as her style: Banul tattoos everything from candy and Disney characters to skulls and mandalas.
3. Zi O aka Handitrip
A master of minimalist design, Handitrip creates designs that are small and understated—but by no means simple. Flowing cursive script tattoos, fanciful depictions of sea creatures, and detailed miniature portraits all populate their portfolio. Most pieces are rendered in black and grey—or in the case of text-based work, just a few simple lines—but some of Handitrip’s tattoos also add in pops of color for a bit more dimension.
Owner of one of Seoul’s most popular tattoo shops, Sol Tattoo Studio, Sol specializes in hyper detailed miniature designs. Scroll through their Instagram page and you’ll find impressive miniature portraits of pets along renderings of famous works of art, florals, and even cityscapes. With the rise of tiny tattoos, Sol has amassed an impressive and dedicated fan base with nearly 600,000 followers on Instagram alone. One fan commented on a portrait, “I would cross the world just to get a tattoo from you,” and frankly, same.
5. June Jung
Originally from Busan, South Korea, June Jung now owns and operates a studio in Los Angeles. Renowned for her command of watercolor-style tattooing, Jung is also a painter. However, she first moved to the States to study art at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Today, she’s a successful artist on the West Coast, where she often supports her fellow South Korean tattoo artists by offering them guest spots at her studio.
6. Shadow Tattooer
Although he designs primarily black-and-grey, American Traditional-style pieces at Electric Chair Tattoos in Florida, Shadow Tattooer just came over to the US earlier this year. “I’ve always been interested in tattoos since I was young,” he tells Inside Out. “I love the concept of somebody being able to keep a piece of your art on their body forever. Even when our bodies die, the art lives on.”
7. Woojin Choi
Another artist working mostly in black and grey, Woojin Choi, better known as Oozy has a broad reaching catalog of incredibly intricate pieces in styles such as surreal and anime. Sometimes the artist will also include pops of color to draw attention to a single feature in the tattoo: a red tattoo on a nude woman, the coloring on Princess Mononoke’s mask, a rivulet of blood.
8. Diki aka Playground
With an Instagram bio that reads “Thin. Small. Simple.” Seoul-based artist Diki’s style is just that: thin, small, and simple. Better known by his handle Playground, Diki creates designs which are extremely minimal. Think fineline quotes, dainty botanicals, and micro portraits. Although he’s been seriously tattooing since 2005, his Insta name is reflective of his life view—he tells Inside Out that it’s best not to take anything too seriously.
Working out of Robin Egg Studio in Seoul, Pitta specializes in colorful tattoos inspired by traditional Asian art and design. Chinese dragons, koi, lotuses, and images of Buddha are all staples in the artist’s portfolio. And his interest in traditional art isn’t just reflected in the subjects Pitta tattoos, it’s also reflected in his color palette. His designs are largely colored with black, blue, yellow, red and white ink, the hues in the traditional Korean color spectrum (also known as Obangsaek).
Ovenlee’s illustrative style is almost better described as impressionism because, like the namesake style of painting, her pieces are also created using rough linework and bright colors and often feature the scenic outdoors. But the artist doesn’t only tattoo natural landscapes, as she also regularly tattoos fun food items, Disney characters, and even family portraits.
While many South Korean tattoo artists work with vibrant hues and kitschy aesthetics, others have actually embraced darker styles popularized by their counterparts in North America. Puff, a resident artist at Igloo Shop in Seoul, for instance, focuses on heavy blackwork and glitch designs. He makes the styles his own though, by adding splashes of color—primarily purples, pinks, and blues—into his pieces.
Goodmorning—more widely known by his Instagram handle @goodmorningtown—almost exclusively tattoos tiny, minimalist cartoon animals. If you look through his portfolio you’ll see that his work includes a bunch of cute creatures like dinosaurs, bears, and rabbits. His go-to character is actually a little gummy bear like the one pictured above on the head of Sandy Cheeks, the squirrel from SpongeBob SquarePants.
13. Sion Kwak
Norigae is a staple of traditional Korean fashion and culture. Popularized during the 18th century, the accessory was designed to represent a woman’s hope—whether that be for love, happiness, wealth, or another desire. Inspired by their beauty, Sion Kwak decided to tattoo images of the adornments this in a stunning, richly colored, illustrative style. “I cherish the beauty of the Korean spirit and the significance that lies in the knot,” she told Inside Out earlier this year. “Because I found this so charming, I immediately wanted to reinterpret this in my own drawings.”
Nini’s tattoos are defined by thick black lines that are both minimal and bold and feature heavy themes of love, grief, and other emotions. She’s also known for her text-based pieces, which she draws in her signature rounded font.
15. Hugo K
Also based in Seoul, Hugo’s rounded, cartoon style epitomizes kawaii designs from South Korean tattoo artists. However, he started out far more edgy and dark, but it was game over once one of his apprentices asked for a tattoo of their cat. “My reason for tattooing is to connect with people from around the world,” he tells Inside Out, adding that his main goal is to bring “joy and warmth to the world.”
If you liked our story 15 South Korean Tattoo Artists to Watch, make sure to check out How Norigae Evolved From Fashion Accessory to Tattoo in South Korea.
OMG!! These are amazing! Getting the urge to get more cute tattoos!!
I’ve seen several of these in real life and their totally blown out! Tattooing in South Korea is a mess, it was illegal and still is for ever, most of the artist there have never had formal training, as most in western countries, and other parts of Asia!, a fair amount of them have gone to Bam Bam in NYC, and then leave . We have had many of these tattoos show up in DC, and their a mess! Blown out color, faded uneven lines, and there is no way to get them fixed because the artists have gone back to Korea! Instagram followers don’t mean good healed tattoos without filters and photoshopped pictures. I was so bummed to see some of these healed! No outline, colors that fade and no idea their doing this or don’t care! Great insta pics, bad tattoos!
Thanks for sharing! We’d say the most important takeaway here is that, regardless of where your artist lives/works, you should look for photos of their healed tattoos before booking an appointment because it’s true that tattoos often look much better when they’re fresh vs. when they’re healed. A lot of the artists on this list regularly share healed photos in their highlights or directly on their feeds. And while it’s also true that many of these artists got into tattooing without formal apprenticeships, self-taught tattooing is a growing trend in the US, too—it’s definitely happening on a global level. Bottom line, though? We always recommend that you research your artist in advance. (We have a helpful list of things to know before getting a tattoo here).
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