This is a tattoo that is actually its own living creature. Sometimes it is a two-dimensional animated being who is restricted to the surface it's inscribed upon, but other times it can leap off that surface and interact with the outside world as its own physical being. The two-dimensional version can be Played for Laughs since it physically resides on its owner, while the three-dimensional version can overlap with Summon Magic, depending on whether or not the owner has control over it. For when the pigment's on a canvas and not skin, try Art Initiates Life. See also Power Tattoo.
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Anime and Manga
- A minor euphoric of Speed Grapher can animate his tattoos. He prefers spiders, but also has knives and a shield.
- A literally small example in Boruto, the Naruto spinoff featuring the cast's kids' generation: Sumire loses the Mark of the Beast that binds her to her personal summoned creature of mass destruction, but the bond she made with it creates a seal on her left palm in the shape of the eye in the center of the original tattoo. This time, blinking is a free action for it.
- In the Porn with Plot hentai OVA Oni Tensei, the protagonist has the eponymous oni tattooed on her back, which can come alive and rip people to shreds when she is in danger. Unfortunately for her, it can also come alive on its own when it feels horny and a hot woman is nearby. Or it may be just a hallucination of an abused girl.
- Natsume's Book of Friends. Natori has what appears to be a gecko "tattoo" that walks around his body, except for his left leg. It is actually a species of Youkai and not a tattoo at all, meaning that ordinary people cannot see it.
- Soul Eater's Medusa has a pet snake that disguises itself as a tattoo. ...or is it a tattoo that becomes a snake?
- The Tattooed Man does this using magical ink.
- The second man to bear that name deserves special mention; two of his tattoos (Kabuki Dan and Alaara, a samurai and a succubus) eventually started coming to life of their own volition.
- Minor Batman foe Pyx has this power.
- Every member of the Gamelei Collective from Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse is marked with a unique animal tattoo she can animate to destroy her enemies.
- An issue of CREEPY had a story called "Pelted" in it. It involved a mobster getting a demon tattooed on his chest for accomplishing his first kill. The demon in question is not very nice, nor still.
- In the "Fatal but Not Serious" story line of Adam Warren's Dirty Pair comic run. An Ax-Crazy clone of Yuri gets a whole bunch of these.
- In the Harry Potter Fan Fic After the End, Charlie Weasley has a dragon tattoo that can move and breathe fire.
- In Left As Ghosts, a Homestuck fanfic, Terezi's dragon tatoo is probably senitent, mght be able to read her thoughts, and is named Pyralspite. It can interact with the world, but that causes it to fade- requiring periodic touch ups with ink (and for it to absorb blood). It acts as armor for the skin its currently on, and helps Terezi navigate after losing her sight.
- In Paris Burning, the personification of the city of Paris has blue-and-green Celtic markings appear on his skin in response to certain emotional states. Word of God has it that various other personified European Cities with Celtic roots have similar markings.
- In Blood And Revolution, Aoshi's tattoos start to move when be begins to succumb to a chaos curse.
Film - Animated
- Moana: The demigod Maui's body is covered in these, and they spring to life at any given moment to either showcase his amazing feats (during his "I Am Great!" Song "You're Welcome" they provide all the visuals to what he's telling, almost turning it into a Disney Acid Sequence) - or more often, silently criticize Maui's less-than-stellar actions in the present day (especially his tattoo of "Mini-Maui", which is a tattoo of himself that moves all over around his body and essentially represents Maui's "Higher Self" or conscience).
Film - Live Action
- Duck Soup: In this Marx Brothers movie, Harpo shows a tattoo of a doghouse - and a live-action dog sticks his head out of it and barks.
- Elektra: One of the villains can bring the many animals tattooed on his body to life. Apparently its not that rare in that universe, either — right before she kills him, Elektra quips "Nice trick, but I've seen it before."
- The Tattooist: A variation: tattoos as a form of curse that spreads over the body before poisoning the victim / drowning them in ink.
- Acheron, a god in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunters series, has a tattoo that is also his personal demon Simi, literally..
- Pritkin and Mac's tattoos in the Cassandra Palmer series.
- The Tattoo in Kraken is a mob boss. He literally is an intelligent, animate tattoo of a face covering some hapless man's back. The Tattoo wasn't always a tattoo— a rival boss captured him and transformed him into one to eliminate him, but that didn't really take. The process of turning him into a tattoo also stripped him of his name, which is why he's only known as the Tattoo.
- This story as well.
- Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man featured tattoos that were animated and told stories as a framing device.
- Penny Dreadful, a Mage: The Ascension novel, features Baron, a mage who casts spells by making his tattoos come alive.
- In the Circle of Magic books, the plant mage Briar tattoos vines on his hands to cover up the court-ordered X's identifying him as a thief. Because he uses vegetable-based dyes (he's a plant mage) and Sandry's magic needles, they come to life and move around under his skin, sometimes reflecting his moods (e.g., growing thorns when he's angry).
- Genome, Sergey Lukyanenko's novel, involved a character who had a tattoo of an imp on his shoulder. While not living per se, it was technically an LCD screen hooked up to his nervous system and effectively displays his emotions. He is a mutant whose emotions were altered (Case in point: as a genetically engineered pilot, he can only love spaceships). He initially wears sleeveless shirts and considers getting a spacesuit with a transparent shoulder, but since the novel is about understanding yourself, he eventually covers the tattoo with clothes.
- In the book Eldest, Eragon meets the twin elves Iduna and Neya, who have a dragon tattoo inscribed across both their bodies. The tattoo has the ability to leave their skin and become a fully formed dragon that can interact with the outside world.
- In the third book, Specials, of the Uglies series, Tally and the Cutters have facial tattoos that pulse with blood pressure.
- In the Dragonback books, the alien K'da have the ability (and, indeed, the requirement) to temporarily become living tattoos on humans and a couple other species.
- Dr. Scamandros in the Keys to the Kingdom series has tattoos that move and change form to reflect his emotions.
- In Neal Stephenson 's The Diamond Age, nanotechnology has evolved to include mediatronic tattoos. In fact, a nameless woman appears naked and has a full-body mediatronic tattoo; even her hair changes color and projects images.
- In Pact, Blake Thorburn has tattoos of birds that change to reflect his state of being, and eventually gains the ability to remove the birds and send them to do simple tasks for him.
- In Thud! Commander Sam Vimes receives a marking on his wrist which is more than just a scar. It is the embodiment of an ancient Dwarven spirit of justice and retribution and takes on sentient life whenever he needs its help.
- In The Crystal Prison, the second book of Robin Jarvis' Deptford Mice trilogy, Madame Akkikuyu has a tattooed face on her ear that will move and speak to her at night. As it turns out, it is possessed by the spirit of Jupiter, who tricks Akkikuyu into releasing him from limbo.
Live Action TV
- A Monster of the Week in Reaper could bring his tattoos to life—including the flames.
- In Tin Man, Azkadellia produces the flying monkeys from tattoos on her chest.
- In The X-Files episode "Never Again", Ed Jerse gets a tattoo of a woman that begins talking to him, insulting him and forcing him to do things. Subverted: It's actually a hallucination caused by ergot in the red ink.
- Friday the 13th: The Series featured cursed tattoo needles that caused its images to come to life and kill its recipient. In exchange, the needles offered unbeatable luck.
- A mild example in Invisible Man, where the Keeper gives Darien the tattoo of a coiled snake on his arm with a chip embedded under it to detect the level of quicksilver saturation in his blood. This is shown by the number of links on the snake turning red.
- The Blue Öyster Cult song "Tattoo Vampire" is about a piece of skin ornamentation with a mind - and thirst - all of its own.
- SCP Foundation
- SCP-021 is a tattoo dragon. It eats pigment found in the host's skin, which could be either melanin or other tattoos, which it prefers. Its movement painfully irritates the skin almost like a tattoo serially removed and reapplied would feel like, giving the people hosting it an increased pain threshold but also greater aggression.
- SCP-834 ("Marked"). Approximately 6 months after a SCP-834 marker is used to draw something on a human body, the drawing animates and attacks the victim.
- Shadowrun. The cover of the Awakenings supplement has a woman with a dragon tattoo on her back, with tattoo animating into a real (small) dragon. See it here◊.
- The Forgotten Realms sourcebook "Inside Ravens Bluff" has an enchanted needle which allows to make "Living Tattoos". These are just animated pictures, though.
- Ravenloft has one nomadic tribe whose shamans can bind a non-evil spirit into living tattoo on anyone they like as a sort of familiar capable of walking around in ghostly form. In "Carnival" one of carnies binds in tattoos Night Terrors - embodiment of phobias, so that instead of scaring people out of their pants little creeps are forced to grant their hosts resistance to the same sort of fear.
- In Transhuman Space this is possible with "nanorobotically created and controlled pseudo-chromatophores", which essentially turn a patch of skin into an LCD screen.
- Similarly Eclipse Phase has "nanotats".
- The Tattooed Sorcerer archetype from Pathfinder grants a familiar even to sorcerers who would not otherwise have one. It also allows this familiar to transform into a tattoo on the sorcerer's body for safekeeping.
- The canceled arcade game Tattoo Assassins used this as a gimmick.
- In the MMO Dofus the Sacrier class uses their own blood as a weapon, but for its successor Wakfu they control their tattoos instead.
- Vulcan Raven in Metal Gear Solid makes his forehead tattoo, a raven, perch on Snake's shoulder and taste his blood to check his lineage. Also, a removed boss in Metal Gear Solid 2, Chinaman, would have had the power to turn his dragon tattoos into real dragons when he was under water.
- Meathook in The Secret of Monkey Island has a skull tattoo on his chest named Roger, which can talk on command.
"Say hello, Roger!""Hello, Roger!"
- Nexus Champions in Nexus Clash are covered with Power Tattoos, one of which is an impressive tattoo of a tiger. The Champion can peel the tattoo off their skin to become a magical Bond Creature tiger that aids them in battle.
- On Futurama, Amy gets a talking devil tattoo that keeps teasing Kif for being so cheap.
Devil Tattoo: I can't wait to tell the tattoos on Amy's butt about this!Male Voice: About what?!Female Voice: Tell us!(Horse Whinnies)
- She also has several on her butt.
- This was the power of the villain Tattoo Man on The Super Globetrotters.
- Freakshow's minion Lydia on Danny Phantom can bring her tattoos to life and come off her body.
- Thanks to advances in both battery technology (using cells which can run off the glucose in your blood) and LED technology this could soon be Truth in Television.