Stories of Anime Tattoo Artists: Beyond the Ink’s End

Interview w/ Ginger Pennington, Kuu Tamura, and Corinna (Cory) Roman
Did you know that there was never EVER an anime or manga about tattoos? Such a shame, so much potential was lost, and these 3 tattoo artists are proof of that!

The era of fear of being judged for loving anime and manga is long gone. Today, anime is adored by people of all ages all over the world! Some feel nostalgic for old anime like Pokémon or Dragon Ball Z, while others are crazy about modern titles.

Whatever the case, in the end, people celebrate their love for anime with tattoos. This statement can be perceived from both sides: anime can inspire one to get a tattoo with a favorite character or become an anime tattoo artist. Today, we invited three tattooists to discuss anime in tattoos: Ginger Pennington of San Diego, Kuu Tamura of Orlando, and Cory Roman of Chicago!

Meet Our Main Characters!

In the process, we discovered that there is not a single anime or manga about tattoos in the world, how is that even possible? So, food for thought: if there was an anime about tattoos, what would it be? An isekai story about a painter being reincarnated as a tattoo artist, a hero’s journey of becoming a famous tattooist, or tattoo shop wars?

Meanwhile, we spoke not with one, not even with two, but with three anime tattoo artists! Let’s introduce their backstories in more detail.

Ginger Pennington — Slice-of-Life With a Dash of Shounen

Ginger Pennington — Slice-of-Life With a Dash of Shounen

Ginger never thought she would become an anime tattoo artist, as she grew up in a rather conservative environment devoid of beautiful tattoos: “I feel like a lot of tattoo artists say something like, ‘I knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist since I was little.’ For me, it wasn’t like that. I grew up my whole life thinking tattoos were ugly because I only saw poorly done tattoos growing up”

And yet, now she is a renowned Korean tattoo artist, you might wonder: how did she get started? Well, as it’s usually the case, many different plots develop in high school. However, in Ginger’s case, the college became the turning point. 

At first, Instagram opened a fresh perspective on tattoos in general, when Ginger saw some well-done tattoos there, she fell in love with them at the instant! Yet the newfound passion for the profession awakened only in the middle of grad school.

Kuu Tamura — Drama with a Seinen Twist

Kuu Tamura — Drama with a Seinen Twist

Although Japan is famously known for being the birthplace of manga and anime, the reality of life in Japan is not all sunshine and rainbows. Kuu Tamura, a Japanese tattoo artist, grew up in a strict household, where tattoos were mostly viewed as an attribute of the yakuza.

Kuu found an outlet for her feelings in the form of art. “I’d been drawing since I could pick up a pencil and whenever I started getting tattoos, I thought it would be something that I would be really into,” she recalls. When she was freed from the shackles of her studies, she took a leap of faith and has been successfully developing as an anime tattoo artist for almost three years now.

Corinna (Cory) Roman — A Sprinkle of Magical Girl Comedy!

Corinna (Cory) Roman — A Sprinkle of Magical Girl Comedy!

An enthusiastic, goofy, and empathetic Mexican-American artist, who makes “cute tatz for babes & brats.” Their story begins in 2018 when they began helping out at a local tattoo shop. People never say no to free help, so Corinna helped them, gained experience, and became a self-taught tattoo artist.

As Cory retells the story, “I was drawing since I was a little kid and I knew it’s what I wanted to do for a living. But I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do. And then I saw that the shop down the street from my apartment was looking for help. So I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense.’ I thought I could fulfill my dream of doing art through tattooing.”

In our opinion, those are amazing protagonist stories, you may notice how we assigned a genre for each character. 

If you’re wondering what their very first tattoo experienced, Ginger and Kuu got the firsthand experience of tattooing themselves. They both pointed out the importance of this ritual, so they could better understand their tools and get in tune with their clients.

As for Cory, they made her first tattoo for her friend, which was a tiny Bart Simpson’s head. “It was only two inches, but I was so nervous to mess it up, it took me two hours to finish it,” they say. Cory got her very first tattoo with Bart Simpson in a studio. 

What Is It Like To Be an Anime Tattooist?

What Is It Like To Be an Anime Tattooist?

All anime tattoo artists seem to possess a special power. And that power is… Domain Expansion. Let us explain the principle behind this technique.

“If I get a request and have no idea who the character is, I try to find episodes online and watch a couple of them to get to know the source material. Sometimes someone will send me a request for some anime, I’ll watch it, and I end up really loving it and watching the rest.”

— Ginger Pennington to InkMatch

There are a lot of interesting titles out there, it would take ages to watch them all. However, if a tattoo artist receives an order for a new, unknown character, they will run through several episodes to better understand them and convey the character in the tattoo. With an 80% probability, the tattoo artist may like the story and watch it to the end in their free time.

“I try to be the type of person who doesn’t like drawing unless I know what it’s from. Clients send me the references and I make sure to watch the show before I draw anything up. Honestly, I find a lot of good anime and cartoons through my job just because I get to tattoo so many different characters.”

— Kuu Tamura to InkMatch

The Challenges

Anime tattooists, manga artists, and animators can agree on one thing — drawing characters consistently is hard. The first difficulty is that most characters have a lot of small details, which takes a lot of time. However, it’s not always possible to convey all the details in a tattoo, and then, as suggested by Ginger, you need to look for compromises with clients. 

Anime hardships

Anime hardships

This heavy detailing is one of the reasons why Kuu is so attentive to her schedule. She limits herself to 4 or 5 hours of work, splits sessions, and takes days off every other day to restore. “Tattooing does take a toll on my body,” highlights Kuu Tamura. “I don’t think most people think about how heavy it is on your body to tattoo for hours. It’s a lot of bending, repetitive motion, and tensing.”

Having a mentor like Coco from the series “Witch Hat Atelier” is great, but for self-taught people like Cory, entering the career can be a hardship. “You need a lot of supplies to start,” they mentioned. “I was bombarding people with so many questions, I had no idea where to start, what machine should I buy, and how to sustain myself.”

Another challenge for anime tattooists is color. You need to get a good eye to get the perfect color balance. Not only that, but anime’s heavy reliance on color can make the process painful to a lot of clients, creating an internal struggle for the artist who wants to deliver a beautiful piece but doesn’t want to inflict discomfort.

Most Popular Anime Tattoo Requests

There are more than a dozen thousand anime, and even more manga, and people are bound to have their favorites. No need to go far for anime tattoo ideas, everything is right at hand. We got Berserk tattoos, Princess Mononoke tattoos, Curse Marks tattoos from Naruto, you name it.

After interviewing our guests, we found three winners, made a tier list, and showed examples of such tattoos by Ginger, Kuu, and Cory (in respective order). All of them are from classic anime.

  • 🥇 First place — Pokémon

  • 🥈Second place — Studio Ghibli’s works

  • 🥉Third place — Sailor Moon

Despite Pokémon taking the first place, tattooists have a special place in their hearts for Ghibli. “I like tattooing Ghibli characters, I made Howl’s Moving Castle flash sheets about a year ago now,” says Kuu. And Ginger stated that “Studio Ghibli stuff is probably equally popular as Sailor Moon.”

💡
Fun fact, if you were to speak with someone from Japan, they would have no idea what Studio Ghibli is. That’s because they call it “Jiburi,” not “Ghibli”!

Modern anime also takes its turn. Kuu mentioned her coworker had been doing Jujutsu Kaisen characters for a week straight! Honorary mentions include Chainsaw Man and Demon Slayer, which have been popular lately.

“Hate-To-Love” Trope for Anime

“Hate-To-Love” Trope for Anime

Remember when liking anime meant whispers of “cartoon violence” and accusations of being a basement dweller? Thankfully, those days are in the past. But before the widespread of fandoms on the internet, many fans have to hide their interest, including Ginger. 

Attitudes toward animation vary in different parts of the world. In the West, animation has long been considered a childish pastime for kids, incapable of developing serious themes. In the East, animation is simply an art form. This was very convenient, because most anime are manga adaptations, and any special effects can be easily recreated in animation. As Kuu recalls, “Anime is just a normal show people would watch on TV.” 

For anime, it’s normal to develop hard topics, but it also tends to be rich in fan service or violent content, which only adds fuel to the skepticism towards anime, giving a bad name to its fans. However, with the rise of the Internet, anime fans became more vocal, and the whole perception has undergone a massive shift, to the point when tattooing anime characters and manga panels became normal.

Q&A: What Are The Newest Trends in Tattoo Art?

We asked our guests about the future of anime tattoos and the latest trends in the tattoo industry, let’s hear them!

Ginger:

“People really like to see celebrities watching anime and being vocally proud of that. So I feel like, you know, the demand is definitely there. But you need to be careful with the most visible tattoo placements, like hand, finger, or neck tattoos. We call them ‘job stoppers.’ So I always double-check with my clients when they want to get that kind of tattoo.”

Kuu:

“I’ve seen a lot of artists switch over to wireless machines. And they’re much, much easier for my wrists. It definitely made a huge difference, like how much pain I was in at the end of the day or how long I could tattoo, and then they’re much easier for traveling. It’s so convenient for conventions!”

Cory:

“You never know, really. Some studios open just to cater to the so-called ‘Pinterest tattoos’, where they specialize in just doing tiny little one-inch tattoos that are just really thin lines. So, I think what’s going to get more popular is studios and artists that cater to a specific niche of tattooing.”

Summary

Animation and tattoos are indeed a match made in heaven, especially when it comes to anime-inspired tattoos. Wherever you look, you can find an idea in every frame. Anime images are great for colorful tattoos, and manga panels fit perfectly into cool black-and-white designs.

The InkMatch team was very happy to hear insights from such talented tattoo artists as Ginger Pennington, Kuu Tamura, and Cory Roman. Let’s hope for the future of the tattoo industry in Asia and look forward to an anime about tattoos (seriously, why is that not a thing yet?!)

If you want to learn more about the tattoo industry in Korea, check out our interview with Sion Kwak!

FAQ

❤️ What Are Anime Tattoos Called?

There isn’t a specific term for anime tattoos, but some folks might call them “otaku ink” (otaku being a fan of anime and manga).

🧡 Are Anime Tattoos Expensive?

Mostly anime or manga-inspired tattoos are famous for their bright colors, but fortunately, this does not affect their price much compared to traditional black-and-gray tattoos.

💛 Why Do People Get Anime Tattoos?

As mentioned by Cory Roman, a talented anime tattooist, “People get tattoos of who they identify with”. Many anime-inspired tattoos are used as a way to express one’s love for a particular anime series or character.

💚 How Do I Find an Anime Tattoo Artist?

InkMatch has you covered! Finding a skilled artist is easier with an anime tattoo collection in the gallery. Save designs you love, and check out the artist’s profile — all within a few clicks.

💜 What Are Some Popular Anime Tattoo Designs?

Some popular Anime tattoo designs include characters like Goku from Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, symbols like the Sharingan from Naruto, or iconic images from popular anime series like Studio Ghibli films.

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