One of the many components of a Power Makeover, the Power Tattoo is a distinguishing mark that shows a character has a certain set of powers. It may only appear when the time is right, or it may be visible at all times, but it frequently tends to glow. Expect it to be placed somewhere on the body that reflects its usage. The more benign version of Mark of the Beast.
Compare Marked Change, where the marks generally cover more of the body, but only when someone has powered up. See also Volcanic Veins, which similarly glow. A person covered in these is a Human Notepad.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
The Sekirei crests, located on the upper back, in Sekirei
Most alchemists who are dependent upon circles have them tattooed on their hands/arms for convenience.
Scar's just happens to be a little more multi-purpose. In the first anime, his brother eventually upgraded to Human Notepad.
And those Homunculi, too.
All the HOMRA clan members from K bear a stylized, flame-shaped tattoo somewhere on their bodies. Its location is different for each person and it appears to be burnt onto their skin (or inside an eye for Anna) if they were able to pass Mikoto's test to join the clan. Notably, in this case the tattoos only signify that the clansman has officially joined and shares the same power as their King. As a result, they seldom glow except when their King's power is going out of control, during which they appear to cause the clansman some physical pain while glowing. Additionally, after Mikoto's death, all the tattoos eventually glow while leaving their bodies and float up into the sky at the same time.
In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Eye of Anubis fulfills this trope. Sometimes mistaken for The Eye of Wdjat, which is the symbol on Yugi's Puzzle, it can appear on the foreheads of bearers of the items when they use shadow magic. Glowing gold. It has also turned up on the Steves those under the power of Marik through the Millennium Rod.
The Orichalcos symbol also count. It does turn up, glowing, on people under its influence like the Eye of Anubis.
The Geass mark from Code Geass. Geass users have it on their eyes, whereas those who can grant Geass powers have them elsewhere, typically the forehead.
The Tokyo Mew Mew girls have marks on their bodies, indicating that they have been infused with Red Data Animals' DNA.
In Saint Seiya, the Bronze Saint, Dragon Shiryu has the likeness of a Chinese long tattooed on his back. It's barely visible most of the time, but reappears as his Cosmo ignites. Unfortunately for him, it also reveals his weakness: the raised claw of the dragon matches the location of his heart, pointing out a fatal flaw in his attack style (he lowers his defense when punching.) Also, when he's close to death, the tattoo vanishes almost completely.
Inverted in Kekkaishi: Gen and other part-Ayakashis employed by the Urukai usually have a tattoo that limits their abilities through pain.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and its Spiral Power: the users have generally spiral-shaped pupils. And Lordgenome has spiral body hair.
This becomes vital in the Final Crisis mini-series when a specific design placed on the face thwarts alien brainwashing efforts.
Kinetix, in Legion of Super-Heroes, when she got her powers restored by the White Witch. In this case, the tattoo was the least unusual part of her resulting appearance, which included white skin, pointed ears, and a tail.
In the wonderful but unappreciated DC comic Son of Vulcan, the main character Mikey gets the previous Vulcan's power when the dying hero touches his face, transferring Vulcan's power through a sort of tattoo. The tat is supposed to go on the new Son of Vulcan's chest, to facilitate secret identifying, but because the transfer is rushed, Mickey ends up with a brightly glowing hand-shaped mark right on his face.
Aqualad II possesses Atlantean tattoos that glow when he uses his hydrokinesis.
The new character Ink in the X-Men comics has a different power for each tattoo he has. At first he thought he was a mutant who would get powers based on his tattoos, but it turns out his tattoo artist is a mutant who could give people powers by giving them tattoos.
Doctor Strange has an ankh which will appear on his forehead if he is close to Death, or whenever he most needs an affirmation of life.
Smaxx from Top 10. A tattoo unwittingly left on his chest by a dying princess is the focus of much power-usage.
Films — Live-Action
In the film Constantine, the title character has two symmetrical tattoos on his forearms. When he puts them together they form an alchemy design: A fire triangle with three radiating arrows below representing the “Perfect Red King,” the Sulfur of the Philosophers.
In The Death Gate Cycle book series, a magician race called the Patryns uses tattoos for protection, amongst other things.
Thieves World stories. The Adepts of the Blue Star had a blue star tattooed on their foreheads as the symbol (and price) of their powers. It glowed when the wearer felt strong emotions.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen features handless ex-priest Heboric, who is covered from head to toe in script and ritual symbols. The tattoos' power is hinted at when he is first introduced, and eventually they grow off his body to replace his severed hands.
Junichiro Tanizaki's The Tattooer, a short story wherein a sadistic artist drugs a young geisha and tattoos a black widow spider on her back, thus releasing the cruel seductress hidden within her.
Eugenie Markham of Richelle Mead's Dark Swan series has multiple tattoos, most of which invoke the powers of the assorted deities she uses to enhance her magical abilities.
The fledgling vampyres get a crescent moon on their forehead in The House Of Night. When it fills in completely, they have finished the 'change'. The main character Zoey Redbird's tattoo has already filled in of course, along with her getting various others when she gets her numerous special abilities.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes' novel Tattoo is about this. A woman from The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday gives a girl named Bailey and her friends some stick-on tattoos that last for a week. Each of them gets a different power for the time they have their tattoos, though they don't know this when they get them.
Gorlist, Drow warrior from novels of Elaine Cunningham, has a dragon tattoo. Its glow indicated the presence of a dragon somewhere around, as well as its kind (which is needed to prepare for the encounter).
The Charter Mages in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series. Among other unspecified things, the forehead marks allow "uncorrupted" Charter Mages to identify each other with a touch.
Cassandra Palmer from Karen Chance book series has a pentacle tattoo on her back that's a ward.
The Shadowhunters from the Mortal Instruments trilogy have the ability to carve (usually temporary, occasionally permanent) tattoos on themselves, giving them a variety of abilities, such as Super Strength, Super Speed, etc. However, not all of these are good. The Big Bad's endgame plan is to have the entire Clave enslaved and under his control by having all Shadowhunters accept a permanent Obedience Rune.
The Imperium from The Grimnoir Chronicles brand kanji onto their operatives that enhance physical attributes as well as superpowers. The good guys know some that weaken captives and apply them in ash.
The Fallen's protagonist Aaron has this whenever he activates his angelic powers.
The protagonist of The Warded Man and The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett covered himself in magical wards, each of which had a different power.
Shade from Dark Life is a variation. His tattoos are a manifestation of his Dark Gift, which is to alter the color of his skin.
The half-vampire members of the Fellowship of St. Giles in The Dresden Files have tattoos that indicate how much they are utilizing their vampiric powers, and thus how close they are to losing control.
Members of magically-inclined families in Collegia Magica are required to bear a tattoo of their family crest on the back of the left hand, whether they themselves are magically talented or not.
The spell "Create Enchanted Tattoo" (AD&D) / "Create Magic Tattoo" (D&D3) makes a temporary empowered tattoo, and can be made permanent like other spells. It requires at least some degree of tattoo skill.
The Al-Qadim spell Tattoo of Power allows the caster to make a single-use tattoo with another spell — just like writing a magical scroll, but implanted in the skin and discharged by touch and command word instead of reading; also requires the caster to learn tattooing as such.
3e Forgotten RealmssourcebookLords of Darkness has Tattoo Magic as item creation feat (mostly, for Red Wizards) — this variety holds an arbitrary low-level spell affecting the bearer, is touch-activated and counts as a magical item worn on the inscribed body part.
Not to mention the new Spellscarred option in Forgotten Realms 4e, those affected by the spellplague (but not completely monster-ized) usually have the spellscar somewhere on the body. It tends to glow with blue fire when activated.
There's also the Tattooed Monk prestige class, whose main aims is to get covered in Tatoo of Power.
3rd Edition supplement Relics & Rituals. Tattoo magic allows useful tattoos to be implanted into the user's skin and activated as needed. They include Chardun's Might (+4 to Strength and Dexterity), Coreans' Forge (Stoneskin spell on user) and Dragon (gain a dragon's breath weapon attack).
d20 Modern setting Urban Arcna also features magic tattoos, that act like scrolls and are activated by touching + command word. Also, one of the organization, the Prancing Pony, a chain of medieval themed fast food, include minor wet transfer power tattoo boosting some skills for around 2-3 minutes in their Magic Meal.
Caste marks appear on the foreheads of all Celestial Exalted if they spend peripheral Essence.
Sample character Kane Taoka in Scion has birthright tattoos, put on his body by the Titan Mikaboshi. One of them is a dragon he can summon at will, and two more are wings.
Electoos from Warhammer 40000 — it's a little unclear exactly what they do. Sometimes they are simple rank identifiers, whilst other authors use them as remote access keys, or even cybernetic circuitry.
In Rifts, any of the various types of Tattooed Men (first introduced in Rifts: Atlantis).
Used literally in Planescape Torment where Tattoos are one of the main pieces of equipment and confer numerous benefits on their wearer, as well as some playing a part in the plot. In addition, one of the Nameless One's non-equipment tattoos is the Symbol of Torment itself, a physical manifestation of pain that he always bears, even if he forgets it's there. Do things right in the game, and his torment ends — and the tattoo falls off.
The Mystics in Legaia II: Duel Saga all have tattoo-like birthmarks on their body. One of them, of course, has it somewhere that doesn't get shown.
The Hero Lang and Big Bad Avalon have their tattoos in visible sight (Lang's a bit too open about his). Shrinking Violet and Magical Girl Maya shyly refuses to reveal the location of her tattoo. Another character almost too eagerly explains the location of her tattoo. And nobody cares where Kazan's is. Too bad for him. And the other three mystics are minor villains, so it's not even brought up with them.
Digital Devil Saga has the Atma Marks as this. Bonus points because you can get one ANYWHERE on the body and the transformation pose has the character reaching out to touch it or show it off (hint: Jinana has hers on one of her butt cheeks).
The Rood Inverse tattoo of Vagrant Story is quite literally a Power Tattoo, as it unlocks the power of Lea Monde and grants its user complete control over the city and its spirits. It makes Sydney effectively immortal. When Guildenstern acquires it, he uses it to much more destructive purposes. Needless to say, the thing is practically Sealed Evil in a Can. Which is why they need Ashley...
The Noise in The World Ends With You all have tattoos which make up part of their bodies. In a particular example, the Psychedelifox, Ambiefox, and Progfox, who can steadily gain extra tattoo-tails during battle, which in turn allow them to do more vicious attacks.
In Final Fantasy XIII, l'Cie have a tattoo-like mark, though it's referred to as a brand, which varies in design based on the fal'Cie that chose them. It glows when they use magic or summon Eidolons, and changes over time to serve as a sort of countdown. If the l'Cie doesn't complete their Focus before it finishes changing, they become a Cie'th, basically a crystalline zombie-like monster that wanders the world is pain and regret.
Phantasy Star Universe: Beasts can turn into a large humanoid monster if they get a special kind of tattoo, known as a Blast Badge.
Fable III has tattoos that start to glow as you gain more magic power and morality. And then there are glowing markings that appear on your clothes if you use flourish attacks, their amount are increased as you gain more magic power. If your morality is good, your tattoos glow blue, just like the tattoos of Maze in the first Fable.
In Golden Sun Dark Dawn Himi of Yamatai has Facial Markings on her forehead that greatly resemble the Third Eye Stone. Conveniently, the Third Eye is what she needs to wake from her visions and extract useful knowledge from them. Mysteriously, villain Blados has similar markings on his forehead. Their purpose is unknown, but speculated.
The never-released game Tattoo Assassins revolved around fighters with magic tattoos. It isn't nearly as good as it sounds.
Corvo from Dishonored gets one from The Outsider, a circular design resembling a compass (complete with tiny, spidery "N" for North) on the back of his left hand.
The eponymous Mark in Mark Of The Ninja grants its wearer increased agility and perception. However, it also causes mild-to-severe hallucinations, eventually driving the person wearing it insane. Thus, it's only used in dire circumstances, and the one who takes the mark is required to commit Seppuku afterwards.
Jason Brody of Far Cry 3 gets a tattoo on his left arm that continues to grow as he gets new skills or finds new hidden collectibles around the world. It's ambiguous as to whether this is genuine magic or all just in his mind, since he never gets the ability to do anything that's quite beyond human limits, but it does seem to signify how much of a badass he's become due to how much it's grown.
Lilith and Maya of the Borderlands series both have clearly visible power tattoo-like markings. Maya's entire left arm, for instance. Lilith has more subdued markings all over the left side of her body as well.
Fate Stay Night magi generally all have a Magic Crest of one sort or the other. It's a mixed blessing: it tends to make you better at whatever branch of magic that Crest is based on and some have additional powers such as providing mana for usage or keeping Tohsaka alive after getting stabbed because she wasn't out of mana yet. However, they bind you and drastically limit your options. Tohsaka is somewhat jealous that Shirou doesn't have one and doesn't think he should ever get one. There's another type of crest the Magic Association gives but this one sucks even worse because all it does is mark you as too valuable to let you possibly run away.
Zoe's cursed necklace tattoo in Sluggy Freelance fits the bill, though turning into a camel whenever someone says the magic word "shupid" is a power that very rarely benefits her. The tattoo itself is pretty inconvenient because her mother would blow a fuse if she ever saw it.
In Dan And Mabs Furry Adventures, Dan's clan mark finally manifests during his fourth battle with Dark Pegasus, indicating that he has exceeded some sort of power threshold.
In The Dragon Doctors this is actually subverted. Kili the shaman has such powerful spiritual sight that she'd lose her mind if it weren't for the tattoos that suppress her spirit vision.
Dex, a background character, seemingly spontaneously develops Summon Magic in one story arc. Other characters realize the power was actually bestowed on him by an Immortal when they see that he has a marking like Susan's, in the shape of a fairy on his chest.
Later we find out that Justin has a tattoo that makes him stronger, and Rhoda has one that lets her make things bigger. Both characters are unaware of the tattoos or the powers.
The Air Nomads are tattooed with sky bison arrow marks along their chi paths when they master Airbending. Since Aang is the last Airbenderalive, his tattoos are also a dead giveaway that he's the Avatar. They glow along with his eyes when he's in the Avatar State. This carried over to The Last Airbender.
Also "Combustion Man" fires powerful beams from his third-eye tattoo.