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.
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.
- Reedus Jonah from Fairy Tail has powers based on this.
- Sai from Naruto also has powers based on this.
- 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.
- Ultimate Fantastic Four's Doctor Doom uses them to take over a country.
- Every member of the Gamelei Collective from Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse is marked with a unique animal tattoo she can animate to destroy her enemies.
- A recent 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.
- One of the villains of Elektra can bring the many animals tattooed on his body to life. Apparently its not that rare, either—right before she kills him, Elektra quips "Nice trick, but I've seen it before."
- A variation happens in The Tattooist which uses tattoos as a form of curse that spreads over the body before poisoning them/drowning them in ink.
- The Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup has a scene where Harpo shows a tattoo of a doghouse - and a live-action dog sticks his head out of it and barks.
- Acheron, a god in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunters series, has a tatoo 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 tattoo, that can control the body of the man he's tattooed on.
- 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.
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.
- 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◊.
- 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.
- Calm and Claire of Seasons have them.
- Kyoto from Blade Bunny has an animated dragon tattoo that can reach out from her body. Taken to its logical conclusion when she uses it to grow wings.
- Tattoo familiar here◊.
- SCP-021 the SCP Foundation is a tattoo dragon. It eats pigment found in the host's skin, which could be either melanin or other tattoos, which it prefers.
- Clade Scrabo Prior in the Orion's Arm setting uses these for communication.
- And Mega Corps from the Non Coersive Zone often pay people to have animated ads tattooed on their skin.