Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning and Designs

Koi fish inks have become ones of the most popular, beautiful and common inks that are tattooed on different parts of a body permanently. This powerful symbol of strength and determination is suitable for men and women and can be both colorful and monochromic.

Koi Fish Tattoos Meaning

The word “koi” comes from the Japanese language originally and means “carp”. An ancient Japanese legend that is hidden behind koi makes this tattoo idea even more attractive and desired. Due to the legend, there was a school of koi fish which were going upstream against a current. As the current was getting stronger and the waterfalls began to appear some fish gave up swimming and some, the strongest, remained to reach the waterfall top. Those that had made it were transformed into beautiful golden dragons by the grace of gods. That’s why the present-day interpretation of koi fish inks mostly incorporates the strength, the thirst for life, the endless struggle and determinism.

Koi can be inked alone or with complementing details such as:

  • Flowers-lilies, orchids, chrysanthemums, sakura and lotus;
  • Water waves;
  • Dragons;
  • Samurais or geishas;
  • Japanese masks etc.

Coy Fish Tattoos Symbolism

Remember that all the meanings of tattoos are interpreted differently depending on personal attitude towards life and personal preferences in a first place. But still you need to be aware of the most common meanings:

  • Bravery and strength – koi are considered to be really brave and independent fish by Buddhists.
  • Long-living, luck, and prosperity – koi are known as centenarians among fish and deemed as protectors of the hearth.
  • Masculinity – Japanese believed that men have the same inner strength and determination as koi fish.
  • Independence and persistence– while the most fish seem to “go with the flow”, koi do not choose the easiest way, they are determined, independent and reach the goal no matter what.

Brought to Japan by Chinese invaders koi was an inconspicuous gray fish that hid in the muddy rivers and water plants at first. Then new colorful fish were bred with scales as beautiful and bright as a rainbow. The whole variety of colors and all possible complementing features give a tattoo artist the great field of different designs and ideas to implement in the unique koi tatt.

  • Red koi embodies strong love and deep feeling;
  • Black koi serves as a reminder of the obstacle that has been overcome;
  • Blue koi is the embodiment of masculinity and a family;
  • Golden or Yellow koi means wealth and luck.

If koi goes upstream and fights with the current, it means that you are on your way to the lifetime goal. If the fish goes downstream, it symbolizes the solution to the problem. Yin-Yang position of koi fish points out on the harmony between two opposites.

The whole diversity of incredible koi fish tattoo ideas is shown below with pictures and meanings so both female and male will be able to find their perfect koi fish tattoo design. So if you search for some interesting koi fish pattern, check out our forty-nine coolest tattoo ideas for your inspiration.

Koi Fish Tattoo Designs

Vivid red and black koi with orchid

If you are not afraid of life problems, if you are brave and determined, this fantastic red and black scales koi sleeve can serve as great tattoo idea. Traditional Japanese tattoo style offers a long list of different symbolic elements such as orchid flower, sakura florets, different curves and water waves. The entire ensemble is converted into this awesome koi sleeve.
Colorful koi tattoo covered the back
This tatt in its vivid colors represents the legend about coy fish fighting the waterfall current. We can see how these majestic fish are trying to get to the top dealing with all the stream of the water. If circumstances put you in an adverse situation, this tattoo piece can help to make it through the tough times.
Golden Koi fish full sleeve
If small inks are not your thing, here’s an incredibly beautiful full sleeve with golden koi fish. Get inspired by the beauty of bright colors and clear lines which encircle the image. As you can notice, the fish is directed upstream and means determined and strong personality of the owner of the tatt. If you can define yourself the same, go for this koi tattoo idea.
Dark koi with red sakura petals
We know that you can’t stay indifferent looking at this tattoo masterpiece. Shown two koi fish, this full sleeve is neat and tight! While hiding behind strong white waves, one koi is going on the flow, the other is fighting the current. The contrast in colors is reached by dark gray and deep red. Sakura has become an inherent symbol of East culture and it perfectly implements koi tattoo design like in the picture.
Tri-color koi on the upper half-sleeve
Even though koi fish were bred in various colors, you won’t probably see this tri-color fish in nature. Black, red and yellow colors remind us the colors of the flag of Germany. One way or another, the ink that shows koi going downstream seems to mean calmness and difficulties that have been overcome.

Part of traditional Japanese koi fish tattoo suit
Japanese stick to their traditions, they honor the past and tattoo culture isn’t an exception. While most of the tattoo masters use modern tattoo machines, some Japanese tattoo artists still use feathers and brushes with needles for their hand-pocked technique. As one of the results, we can see fully colored pieces on both legs. Two koi fish swimming upstream remind you to be persevering and confident through good and bad times.
Koi to dragon transformation half-sleeve
When most fish are considered to be calm, koi shows the great independence and unbeaten thirst for life. That is exactly what so appreciated by Japanese and Chinese and that is the reason why so many people nowadays choose koi for different designs to be inked. The picture shows golden koi struggling with the waterfall and slowly transforming into the dragon. Rich in its colors and symbolic elements this half-sleeve is remarkably fantastic.
Green koi-dragon sleeve
According to the legend, we said before, the bravest and the most determined koi fish are getting the blessing from gods to reincarnate into divinely beautiful dragons which are sacral to Japanese. As vivid and colorful as this tatt is, it charms you from the first glance. All the outlines, detailed fish scales, waves, and flowers are inked artfully. If you consider yourself as pride, independent person who fights for what he/she thinks is right, this tattoo sleeve with koi-dragon is worth to opt for.
Symmetrical dragon-koi tattoo
The tatt you see can’t be claimed ordinary, it is more than just a tatt, it is a masterpiece itself. The inked composition is performed on the both sides of the chest and both arms. Symmetrically placed, this koi tattoo is rich in vivid colors and details. One side of the composition presents already reincarnated dragon-koi, the other shows struggling blue koi fish swimming in white water. We love the symmetrical way this tatt is engraved.
Precise black koi shoulder tatt
The absence of vibrant colors makes this koi ink design special. Clear outlines, precise dashes, and exquisite shading are inked so artfully to present an incredible koi with lotus tattoo. Those depicted lotus flowers represent charming purity while grown in muddy areas. Lotus combined with swimming upstream koi mean recalcitrance and endless struggle. Such powerful symbolism for your tattoo idea, isn’t it?
Tiny black and gray koi tattoo on arm
It’s more common to see large koi inks than small ones, but they do not concede them. While koi can reach huge sizes in nature, you can ink any size you want on your body. Well, if you are keen on tiny tattoos, give this fabulous little koi tattoo design a chance! It’s more than just elegant; it’s deeply meaningful and special ink!
Small red koi on wrist
This vibrant red small koi seems to flow along majestically on this person’s wrist. While the most koi ink designs fit men more, this tiny red buddy is more suitable for females. Its color symbolizes strong love and deep feelings. Plus it can define a mother or a daughter. Despite the meaning you put into this ink, it looks elegant and delicate.
Downstream koi half sleeve
As red as tongues of fire are, this koi fish is inked going downstream which points out on the calm and reasonable personality of tattoo wearer. This could mean an obstacle that the tattoo owner has already overcome. Quite often people who have conquered deadly diseases or some addictions choose this koi tattoo design as a reminder of their victory and fortitude.
Colorful Yin-Yang koi tattoo on the cuff
Blue and red koi fish carry powerful symbolic meaning, yet placed in Yin-Yang position the meaning is getting more powerful. As it is known Yin-Yang coy ink represents the balance of two opposites which harmonically complementing each other. The tatt with blue and red koi fish seem to embody feminine and masculine in their union.
Blue koi with sakura ink
This magnificent blue koi emerges out of white water on this man forearm.  Whilst directed upwards this blue koi ink embodies masculinity, struggle, and bravery and proclaims fortitude and independence. If you find yourself in the right place and time for such tattoo design of Japanese koi, get ready for catching glances from all the passersby.
Blue koi shoulder cover-up
Hope that you don’t have to be told over and over again that tattoos should be chosen wisely and deliberately. Otherwise, there’s a great chance to look for a new tattoo idea for the cover-up. Like the one in the picture blue koi tattoo on the shoulder is kind of a nice option to leave behind the reminder of the days when you went wild! Blue color of koi fish indicates the masculinity or/and a father, a son. With its vivid blue color and a semantically rich design, this koi deserves your attention!
Blackwork koi fish
While the most part of this sleeve is covered with black ink, koi fish is highlighted with the absence of paint. With all this black background and soft gray and black shading of waves, koi remains free of color which makes it even more visible. Great piece of tattoo art!
Black and white koi leg sleeve tattoo
With the shiny part of this tattoo work that is still fresh, the whole leg sleeve shows a real masterpiece Japanese culture inspired. Oni tattoo part that is illustrated on the cuff with evil mask image is intended to protect from all the evil. Koi fish that are placed all over the tattoo composition are the symbols for strength and thirst for life. You need to be aware that these huge pieces of tattooing require a lot of time and patience but they totally worth that!
Koi fish forearm half-sleeve tattoo
The whole ink consists of one great koi fish image shown in vibrant golden, yellow and brown colors. The lines and shades are linked so artfully that we might catch ourselves staring at this tattoo piece for hours. The most stunning part of this half-sleeve is well-drawn scales of koi with masterly inked thick outlines encircling each scale. Tight koi tattoo!
Entirely inked arm
Let’s face the fact that such full sleeves require guts and strength in a first place and only than money and time. No matter how painful it can be this huge koi fish swimming upstream on the man’s arm is totally worth that pain. Yamabuki is a Japanese definition for wealth and fortune which this golden koi tattoo symbolizes while it is fighting the waves and showing an unbeatable thirst for life.
Black and gray koi with coin tatt on the leg
If colored tattoos are not your thing, check out this monochromic koi ink on the leg. The absence of colors doesn’t make it less interesting or beautiful. Just the other way about, these thick clear outlines and soft shading add a spice into koi tattoo. The coin always used to serve as a magnet for good luck and prosperity, that’s why Chinese and Japanese often put this symbol in tattoos.
Big size black koi tattoo on the leg
These two inked stunning koi seem to float majestically in deep dark waters with red fallen leaves. Black colored scales of koi fish can symbolize either hard time that has been fought with the greatest strength or can be a symbol for a father and masculinity. Either way the beauty of traditional Japanese tattoo lines and shades charm from the first glance.
Terrific koi and lotus ink on the leg
This half leg sleeve is filled with vivid colors and deep meaning as well. The combination of koi fighting the current and beautiful lotus flower seems to be one of the most powerful symbols in Japanese tattoo culture. Both koi and lotus start to grow in muddy rivers and both become unbelievably beautiful through struggle and pains. Eventually, they both began to embody the growth and strong personality.
Full chest tattoo of koi and samurai
Even though fully inked body become to associate with Japanese mafia because of their tattoo body suits, many people still get their chest and back fully tattooed with different tattoo patterns. With all these traditional curves and soft lines, big koi fish is inked going upstream with a samurai on its back. While koi symbolizes an endless struggle and determination, the samurai is a symbol of bravery, fearlessness, and endurance.
Giant golden koi on the quarter sleeve and chest
Golden or yellow color of koi is believed to be the luckiest one for a tattoo design because it means wealth and fortune to the wearer. So if you are ready to bring a little luck into your life, get ready to ink golden koi on your body. Regardless the meaning of koi scales color, such tattoo looks cool and tight on any occasion.
Monochromic koi full back tattoo
Koi or carp is well-known for its large sizes and longevity while living in nature. Koi tattoo is that case when the size matters. Loved for its determination, endurance and perseverance koi is usually chosen by people who want to achieve the greatest life goals. They believe that koi fish tattoo will help them to overcome any obstacle they’ll face on their way. So the bigger area of a body is covered with a tattoo, the luckier they become.
Koi leg half sleeve inspired by Blackwork
Blackwork is that kind of tattoo style where the leading role is given to black color. The shades are performed by white or absence of color. Separately falling red sakura petals is the symbol for the transience of life. Black scales koi is a traditionally male symbol for masculinity, patriarchate, and a father. Meet the rapid flow of the river this black koi is a significance of strength and determination.
Male traditional koi fish tattoo on the back
What can possibly be more traditional than putting the image of koi, samurai, and peonies in one impressing full back tattoo? Due to koi bravery and courage Japanese sometimes compare it to the samurai who is considered to be the bravest and most fearless warriors on Earth. It is said that koi when been caught,  faces the knife with no quiver like the samurai faces the death from the sword.
Female traditional Japanese tattoo of koi on the side
Traditional Japanese tattoo style shows the whole variety of dragons, fish, samurai warriors, geishas and other eastern motives and elements. The point is to ink images that they seem to be in motion. For instance, this swimming upstream koi with wriggling tail decorated with red sakura petals.
Red koi fish quarter sleeve tattoo
If you want to decorate yourself with a nice koi fish ink, take this absolutely fantastic koi quarter sleeve into account. As it was mentioned koi were bred into a different variety of colors and each color presents different meaning. Red koi like the one in the picture is a strong symbol for intense love and matriarchate. Daruma doll image on the left is thought to bring luck and happiness. Daruma is a Japanese name of Bodhidharma who is known as a founder of Zen Buddhism.
Koi and red lotus flower tattoo sleeve
Lotus and koi fish is a common combination in Japanese tattoo designs. Colors, size, and placement can vary depending on your personal preferences. The symbolism of these united designs can change starting from purity and optimism of the person with this tattoo and finishing with optimistic facing the challenges and overcoming troubles the way lotus grows in muddy rivers and koi fights with the current.
Feminine koi fish tattoo on the shoulder blade
Koi tattoo designs can suit females as well as males. Having a tattoo on your shoulder or belly isn’t only cool and sexy; it is also very meaningful for each individual. Choose a red or pink color of koi fish tattoo so that it will mean femininity, a mother or a daughter and protect you and your family throughout your life.
Koi fish full sleeve in vivid color
Getting your arm fully inked isn’t easy peasy lemon squeezy. This process requires a lot of guts and determination. This koi sleeve that we can see in the picture covers every millimeter of man’s arm. It is colorful and extremely precise with all the lines and shading. While going adrift this red and black koi seems to be peaceful and wise.
Yellow koi shoulder ink
Tattoo masters who work in Japanese tattoo style learned how to transfer motion with the help of tattoo. Those blank lines in the image imitate a flow of water in the river and it seems koi swims gracefully in deep waters. Water and waves are inalienable elements in koi tattoos.
Incredible koi side tattoo
Once you get one tattoo it is hard to stop after. Getting a tattoo should be a well-considered and balanced decision. Coy fish tattoo designs are those which carry deep symbolism in them. The one in the picture shows yellow and red koi that are floating towards each other and mean thirst for life and deep love.
Two feet – one koi fish tattoo
It’s quite common to place one tattoo design on two hands or feet so it can be the whole image only when you put them together. This tattoo represents swimming koi with a beautiful pink lotus flower on the one side. The most widespread lotus and koi tattoo meanings are purity, determination, facing the problems with optimism.
Koi tatt on the shoulder in Geometric style
Playing with different tattoo styles can create unique designs like the one in the picture. An awesome combination of Graphic and Geometric styles made it possible to enjoy this magnificent koi fish tattoo on the shoulder blade. While the head is inked with the help of lines and soft shading, tail and some fins are gathered from different geometric figures.
Red and yellow koi on the hip
These two cosmic koi fish are floating upstream on this girl’s hip. Red and yellow colors are chosen more often by females than other colors. Yellow means good luck and fortune and red is a symbol of femininity, a mother, and a daughter. Slightly sketch-like and deeply colored these koi show space with stars through their scales. Unbelievably beautiful and tight tattoo work!
Cartoon-like koi with lotus on the hip
Blue and yellow koi fish which slightly remind of goldfish are placed on the girl’s hip. The tattoo composition is complemented by artfully inked water bulbs and waves. The last but not the least is lotus flower that is shown on the side. Koi with lotus is a great tattoo idea for optimistic and determined people!
Magnificent gray koi fish tattoo on the cuff
Grey color isn’t common for koi tattoo image that is why this design is so special. With scales that look like metal armor, this koi is placed on the cuff going upstream which represent the tattoo owner as a brave, determined and fearless person.
Large tattoo of koi on the back
You will absolutely appreciate this full back tattoo of black koi with yellow tail and fins. People who get tattooed with such big size koi tattoo design believe that the bigger it is the luckier they’ll be in all life occasions. Considering the size and hand-pocking tattoo technique this big tattoo seems to take years to be finished. Tattoo beauty has its own price besides money.
School koi fish tattoo on cuff
New school tattoo style is great for those who want to refresh old traditional designs. This koi fish tattoo idea will be appreciated by graffiti admires because it reminds the street art. Vibrant colors, clear lines and cartoon-like images are the main features of New School style that is presented in the picture. So if you want to go with some unusual and modern koi tattoo design, take New School into account.
Cartoons inspired koi ink on the side
If you are not a fan of the realistic or traditional style of tattoos, opt for a little bit childish, the bright cartoon-like design of koi. This one is different from others with its bright vivid coloring and clear thick outlines which encircle the image. This one will taste just right to girls and women who want to look mysterious and joyful!
Red & black koi fish tattoo on the thigh
Black colored koi is a symbol of masculinity on thig. Japanese even used to fly the flag with a koi image on it on the door when a boy was born in the family. Red koi image has got the opposite meaning of femininity. Inking these opposites in one tattoo guarantees harmony and peace in family life.
Enormous black and red koi on the leg
While all the meanings and symbolism features are going deeply into Japanese and Chinese cultures, modern koi fish tattoo is an embodiment of strength and bravery of those who have been going through the hardest times and finally made it. This red and black koi fighting a strong current is a great example of our previous words.
Koi fish holding a coin tattoo
Chinese and Japanese have so many talismans and amulets that, according to beliefs, bring them luck and happiness. A combination of black and gold koi with traditional lucky coin tattoo symbolizes strong friendship, wealth, and good luck at the same time. No matter what kind of meaning you put into this tattoo, it is beautiful and unique in a first place!
Golden koi fighting the waves tattoo
The most frequent tattoo image of koi fish shows it in white water and waves fighting against the current. Like the one on the shoulder blade, this koi fish tattoo design could be placed on any other part of the body as well. The whole point is in the direction the fish swims. If it goes up crosscurrent, you are not afraid of difficulties and you try to overcome them. If the fish goes adrift, you are probably the easy-going person who can stay calm in tough situations.
Golden realistic koi on side
Realism tattoo style can be breathtaking and eye-catching. Like the ink of golden koi on the side in this picture, realistic tattoo images try to convey all the natural details. As a result, we get a perfect tattoo design with deep symbolism as well. Golden or orange koi mean prosperity and fortune!
Koi in the lotus pond tattoo
Realistic white, red and black koi fish swim peacefully in the pond with lotus flowers. The whole tattoo art piece can be seen on the woman’s back and proves that age can’t be the reason not to have inks. With all the vivid colors and delicate lines, this koi tattoo on the back has got all the chances to be claimed the masterpiece!