50+ Koi Fish Tattoo Design Variations with Different Meanings

By Jason Hamilton / October 26, 2018
3d koi fish tattoo
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All of us have gone through tough times. Yet, these challenges made us stronger and even better. These experiences that we’ve gone through and molded us are best represented by tattoos so we’ll always be reminded of how we pulled through all of life’s challenges and that we can survive even the coming storms too. One of the best symbols to represent our hardships and endurance is a koi fish tattoo. But what’s in that mere fish that makes it worthy to represent our journey in life?


Koi Fish Tattoo: The Origin

Many of us may think of Japan or its culture when we see a koi fish due to how it plays a big part in their culture. But apparently, the koi fish didn’t originate in Japan. Technically, it was the Chinese who brought it to Japan. They later domesticated and exclusively bred it in Japan to create colored koi species.


Chinese and Japanese myths tell a story of koi fishes trying to climb a waterfall. Many of them would try to swim to reach the top of the waterfall. However, only a few of them are brave enough to make it to the top. The myths say that any one of them makes it to the final stretch of the waterfall, they would be rewarded and would transform into a very powerful dragon.


These Chinese and Japanese tales later inspired people to get koi fish tattoo designs. People who opt for these tattoos often use it to symbolize their perseverance even after facing tough times.

What a Koi Fish Tattoo’s Color Tells You

The koi fish may generally represent a person’s adversity. However, it can depict more than that. Koi fish tattoos come in a wide variety of designs and colors and its meaning can vary too.



A black-colored koi is often associated with conquering life’s obstacles. These obstacles may be depression, abusive relationships, addiction, or any other situation that gave you a hard time. That being said, this color of a koi fish tattoo will fit those who experienced tough battles in life and have eventually overcome them and became stronger.


Red koi fishes represent love just as how the color red symbolizes it too. It can be paired with orange, which can signify a mother’s love, or with pink that depicts a daughter. Additionally, the red-colored koi fishes signify bravery and power.



Yellow koi fishes are often used in tattoos. It doesn’t just look good but it can also symbolize wealth, as well as good fortune. Thus, this koi fish color is perfect for those who want an aesthetically pleasing body art that will serve as their charm.


The blue color, as we all know it, represents peace. It also stands for calmness and tranquility. When this color is paired with the koi fish, it will be a perfect match as fishes are also known as peaceful animals. Apart from that, it can also be used as a tattoo to represent masculinity. Additionally, a blue koi fish tattoo can also depict reproduction.


Koi Fish Tattoo Direction Meaning

The koi fish tattoo is one of the most meaningful tattoo designs out there. It contains so many meanings that even its direction can tell so much story about the wearer. If you are considering a koi fish tattoo, you might want to be more particular to its direction to make sure that it would really suit you.

Upward Direction

Koi fish tattoos swimming in an upward direction can mean that you have already gained more strength and stability. This means that you are even more ready to continue going against the current and face more challenges. Additionally, a koi fish swimming upstream can mean that you are not done yet in fighting your battles. Even so, it means that you will not give up and will continue to fight.


Downward Direction

While koi fishes swimming upstream often depicts positive meanings, downward direction can too. If a koi fish is drawn swimming downstream, it can mean that you’ve already overcome life’s biggest challenges and that you’ve already succeeded. Thus, you are not fighting the current anymore. On the other hand, it can also mean that you still don’t have the strength yet to overcome life’s obstacles and you still can’t move to success.

Koi Fish Tattoo Design Variation Ideas

Now that you already know what each direction and color of a koi tattoo means, you might be wondering how you can combine them to use as a body art to show a bit of yourself. If you are fascinated with koi fishes, here is a list of tattoo design variation samples of koi fishes that you’ll definitely love too. These designs will suit whatever gender preference you have. On top of that, these designs will also work on any body part that you want to have it inked.

Black Ink

Again, a black colored koi fish signifies success against life’s trials. Here are some samples of black koi fish tattoos that can represent your success in life too.

A black ink koi fish tattoo on the inner part of the left wrist


A black koi fish tattoo that covers the whole back

A koi fish tattoo on the upper left part of the back with elegant angles


A big koi fish sleeve tattoo made with grey ink

A big black koi  fish tattoo on the upper part of the left arm


Colors, again, can play a huge part in a koi fish tattoo’s meaning. Each color has its own meaning but you can combine them to create a more meaningful and, of course, colorful body art.


A small outline of a koi fish on with multicolored pastel background on the left foot

A pink ink koi fish tattoo that’s drawn at the back

A brightly colored koi fish tattoo on the right arm


A small colored koi fish tat on the inner wrist

A blue ink koi fish tat drawn on the side of the torso



A 3D koi fish tat design on the right shoulder

A 3D black in koi fish on the left arm


Two orange koi fishes in 3D situated on the right arm


A 3D red koi fish on the upper left part of the back

A big 3D gold koi fish drawn at the back


Basically, the yin and yang-inspired koi fish tattoos resemble a Pisces tattoo. They both show two koi fishes swimming in opposite directions and are shaped just like the yin and yang symbol. This type of style is actually one of the famous design variations of this very meaningful tattoo. Aside from the matching aesthetics, the two symbols also match each other because of its representation of peace.


Blue koi fish tattoos on both feet which form a yin-yang or Pisces symbol when the feet are together

Another yin-yang inspired koi fish tattoo in grey and black ink

A small black and white yin-yang-inspired koi fishes that represent a man and a woman


A black and grey ink yin-yang koi fish tat with hits of blue

Small unique red and black koi fishes that are shaped like the yin and yang symbol but both swim in the same direction


Koi fish tattoos made using the watercolor technique is one of the most unique and aesthetically pleasing tat design variations. The details are subtle and minimalist but look very elegant and artsy. Such soft details also match a koi fish tattoo’s representation of calmness and peacefulness.


A koi fish swimming upstream with black, pink, gold, and orange colors


Black and white koi fishes inspired by the yin and yang symbol

A dark-colored watercolor koi fish tattoo on the upper left part of the back

Another yin-yang-inspired koi fish tattoo on the inner part of the wrist

A black ink koi fish swimming downstream placed near the elbow

An orange and gold koi fish tattooed on the left thigh

Three multicolored koi fishes swimming in circle tattooed on the chest


This type of koi fish tattoos that drew inspiration from traditional tattoo patterns that contain repetitive strokes, bold lines, and strong black ink utilization. Such strong pattern is often used by men as it looks more masculine. Even so, some designs work for women too.

A solid black ink tribal koi fish tattoo on the forearm

A tribal-inspired grey ink koi fish tat on the left shoulder

Tribal-inspired koi fishes resembling the yin and yang symbol placed at the back area

A solid black ink tribal-inspired koi fish tattoo on the thigh

A tribal koi fish tattooed on the foot made with solid and bold lines

Koi Fish with Flowers

Flowers are a beautiful addition to a koi fish tattoo. Additionally, depending on the flower’s variation, it can convey a deeper meaning too.

A koi fish with lotus flowers to represent beauty after hardships

A golden koi fish with dahlias to symbolize the wearer’s freedom-loving and energetic personality

Another koi fish tattoo with lotus flowers but with different colors

A koi fish tattoo with cherry blossoms to represent the beauty of life

A koi fish with a big blue and gold lotus flower to represent a start of a new life

Koi Fish with Waves

Waves often represent life’s trials. When it’s paired with koi fish tattoos, it can symbolize a person’s struggles and willingness to thrive harder to overcome them.

A colorful koi fish sleeve tattoo with flowers and waves

A big red koi fish tattoo placed over waves on the arm

A red and gold koi fish over a waves inked on the forearm

A maroon and gold koi fish swimming over the waves to represent a triumph

A small koi fish tattoo with hibiscus flowers swimming over small waves

Dragon Koi Fish

Chinese and Japanese legends say that the carps or koi fishes who made it on top of the waterfall are transformed into a dragon, people started to illustrate a koi fish with a dragon’s head. This design can be used to represent victory over trials as well.

A colorful dragon koi fish sleeve tattoo on the right arm

A multi-colored dragon koi fish tattoo covering the entire back area

Another richly detailed dragon koi fish tattoo on the back with multiple colors

A complex black ink dragon koi fish tattoo on the forearm

A red and gold ink dragon koi fish with waves

Koi Fish with Skull

Many people may associate skull tattoos with negative connotations. Little do they know that it can serve as a powerful symbol to represent positive experiences like overcoming death, especially when it’s paired with koi fish tattoos.

A red koi fish piercing through a black ink skull

A koi fish that appears to swim away from a skull

A reddish brown ink tattoo of a pirate skull with a koi fish

A dragon koi fish tattoo with a skull placed at the back area

A colored koi fish swimming away from a reddish brown ink skull tattoo

Koi tattoos still have countless design variations. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Even so, you can get more creative and match your koi fish tattoos with other symbols too. If you have any combination to suggest, tell us down the comment section below. Which of these symbolic designs can you relate to the most?

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About the author

Jason Hamilton

Jason has been an avid fan of tattoos for over 13 years now. He is currently 35 years old, and he got his first tattoo at the age of 22. Since then, he has added over 20 tattoos to his collection. He is also into writing, which is why he decided to celebrate both of his passion and hobby through tats ‘n’ rings. Jason dreams of having his very own tattoo parlor soon. Jason would be very happy to answer any questions about tattoos that you may have! Leave a comment below and he’ll answer it for you right away!

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