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 Living Drawing. See also Art Initiates Life and Power Tattoo.
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Anime & Manga
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Overlord (2012), the leader of the drug trafficking department, Hilma Cygnaeus, has a viper tattoo on her right arm. At her command, it can come to life and inject her victim with a deadly toxin, although the skill has a fairly long cooldown if used. It's also her only method of defense, so if confronted with, say, a druid untold dozens of levels stronger than her that isn't falling for her seductress act, it doesn't help.
- Soul Eater's Medusa has a pet snake that disguises itself as a tattoo. ...or is it a tattoo that becomes a snake?
- A minor euphoric of Speed Grapher can animate his tattoos. He prefers spiders but also has knives and a shield.
- Minor Batman foe Pix has this power. Hers stems from a special nanobot-infused ink.
- An issue of Creepy Magazine 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" storyline of Adam Warren's Dirty Pair comic run, an Ax-Crazy clone of Yuri gets a whole bunch of these.
- Green Lantern: 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.
- Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse: Members of the Sisterhood that serves the Gamelei Collective are each marked with a unique animal tattoo she can animate to destroy her enemies.
- In the Harry Potter fanfic After the End (Arabella and Zsenya), Charlie Weasley has a dragon tattoo that can move and breathe fire.
- In Blood and Revolution, Aoshi's tattoos start to move when be begins to succumb to a chaos curse.
- In The Butcher Bird, Baskonn's Devil Fruit abilities allow him to control ink, resulting in both this trope and Power Tattoo.
- In Left As Ghosts, a Homestuck fanfic, Terezi's dragon tattoo is probably sentient, might 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 it's 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.
Films — Animation
- 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).
- The Sea Beast: When Gwen Batterbie, a so-called “sea witch”, asks Captain Crow why he came to her despite her reputation, he explains that he doesn't "believe in superstitions", which prompts her to mess with him a bit. With a brief red flash of her eyes, she is able to move his tattoo to form a snake-like coil around his neck without him noticing.
Films — 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 it's not that rare in that universe, either — right before she kills him, Elektra quips "Nice trick, but I've seen it before."
- In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the later films, the Dark Marks inscribed on the Death Eaters' arms move.
- The world of In Time has humanity achieve biological immortality and staving off overpopulation by using time in the place of conventional currency, people dying on the spot when they run out. This is tracked by an analog clock on their forearms that starts glowing and ticking down on their 25th birthday.
- In The School for Good and Evil (2022), Hester has a tattoo of a skeleton dragon on her back that comes to life when summoned.
- The Tattooist: A variation: tattoos as a form of curse that spreads over the body before poisoning the victim / drowning them in ink.
- Ray Bradbury:
- The Illustrated Man features tattoos that are animated and tell stories as a framing device.
- Bradbury also gave Mr. Dark tattoos that move and mesmerize Jim and Will in Something Wicked This Way Comes. It was depicted perfectly in the film.
- In the Charm of Magpies series, a gay Victorian supernatural detective series by KJ Charles, Earl Lucien Vaudrey's eldritch powers (derived via a mystical connection with all magpies) are manifested by several large magpie tattoos on his person that move and change position in moments of agitation, and sometimes even transfer to others.
- Circleverse: Before the second series, The Circle Opens, Briar tattooed vines on his hands to cover up the court-ordered X's identifying him as a thief. Because he used 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).
- Acheron, a god in Sherrilyn Kenyon's The Dark Hunters series, has a tattoo that is also his personal demon Simi, literally.
- 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.
- 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.
- Discworld: 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 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.
- 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.
- Charm is not exactly a tattoo in Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, but he initially mimics one so effectively that Kate has to put herself in harms way to talk to him.
- Inheritance Cycle: In 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.
- Dr. Scamandros in the Keys to the Kingdom series has tattoos that move and change form to reflect his emotions.
- 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.
- Penny Dreadful, a Mage: The Ascension novel, features Baron, a mage who casts spells by making his tattoos come alive.
- 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 the third book, Specials, of the Uglies series, Tally and the Cutters have facial tattoos that pulse with blood pressure.
- The Black Lightning (2018) version of the Tattooed Man has an Adaptational Superpower Change: he gains tattoos of the people he kills, and the tattoos sometimes come to life and give him unwanted advice. He eventually learns how to work with them.
- Class (2016): In "The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo", the titular tattoo is an alien dragon that came through a rift and became trapped as a tattoo on a football (soccer) coach, which he then used to become stronger, including letting it eat people.
- In the two Doctor Who stories in which it appears, the Mara manifests itself as a snake tattoo on Tegan's arm. In "Snakedance", her transferring the Mara to the bored princeling Lon involves the snake tattoo coming to life and slithering off of Tegan's arm and onto Lon's.
- Friday The 13th: The Series features cursed tattoo needles that cause its images to come to life and kill its recipient. In exchange, the needles offer unbeatable luck.
- A mild example in The 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.
- In Moon Knight (2022), Arthur Harrow has a tattoo of a set of scales that shifts when he judges someone's soul. Interestingly, when he does it to Steven Grant, it starts to move wildly, to which Arthur mutters that "There's chaos in you".
- Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue has an arc where the series' Sixth Ranger, Ryan Mitchell, is cursed by the series antagonist Diabolico to cause a cobra tattoo on his back to rise further and further every time he morphs, which would end in it killing him.
- A Monster of the Week in Reaper could bring his tattoos to life—including the flames.
- Supergirl (2015) has a Puppeteer Parasite alien species known as Aurafacians that resemble spiders and meld themselves in hosts in the form of tattoos. They can grant abilities such as shooting the webbing markings off their bodies.
- In Tin Man, Azkadelia produces the flying monkeys from tattoos on her chest.
- The X-Files: In the 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.
- The Blue Öyster Cult song "Tattoo Vampire" is about a piece of skin ornamentation with a mind - and thirst - all of its own.
- The video for "Dark Wave" by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks starts out with a shot of a tattoo-covered man sleeping in the nude - once the music starts, his tattoos start moving to the beat and sometimes interacting with each other, as the camera pans to various parts of his body. There's even a tattoo of Stephen Malkmus himself that's animated to mime some of the lyrics.
- In Trials & Trebuchets, the party get animal tattoos at the insistence of their classmate Angelika Lindeman, despite the tattoo artist warning them that the ink is cursed to come alive on the full moon. This comes back to bite them in the arctic town of Troisle when their tattoos awaken on the full moon and leave their bodies to cause mayhem.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- 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.
- The snake darts Wu Jen spell (from Complete Arcane) turns a pair of snake tattoos on the caster's arms into venomous projectiles. To recover the tattoos, the caster must then swallow the snakes.
- The Expanded Psionic Handbook has "Crawling Tattoos". They are basically temporary psionic items tattooed on a character, but which can animate like small constructs and leave their wielder to reach another creature, delivering a psionic effect, positive or negative, decided upon during their creation.
- 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.
- 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◊.
- In Transhuman Space this is possible with "nanorobotically created and controlled pseudo-chromatophores", which essentially turn a patch of skin into an LCD screen.
- In God of War Ragnarök, the game's version of Huginn and Muninn, Odin's ravens and spies across the nine realms, can disappear and be summoned from the tattoos in their master's wrists.
- 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: Sons of Liberty, Chinaman, would have had the power to turn his dragon tattoos into real dragons when he was underwater.
- 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.
- Jumping Jack Bu from Roly Polys No Nanakorobiyaoki has a dragon named Tatsuro tattooed on his back. Whenever he gets angry, the tattoo comes to life and breathes fire on whatever made Bu angry.
- Meathook in The Secret of Monkey Island has a skull tattoo on his chest named Roger, which can talk on command.
"Say hello, Roger!"
- In the first SPY Fox game, there's a minor character who's eager to show his tattoo off that he'll do it every time you talk to him. In his defense, it changes to something completely different each time, and one of them is of him showing off his tattoo, so it's understandable why he'd be proud of it.
- Tattoo Assassins uses 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.
- 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.
- Unsounded: Darkest Paul has a tattoo across his face that can shift under his skin.
- Orion's Arm:
- Clade Scrabo Prior in the setting uses these for communication.
- Mega Corps from the Non Coercive Zone often pay people to have animated ads tattooed on their skin.
- SCP Foundation:
- SCP-021 ("Skin Wyrm") 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 an SCP-834 marker is used to draw something on a human body, the drawing animates and attacks the victim.
- Freakshow's minion Lydia on Danny Phantom can bring her tattoos to life and come off her body.
- On Futurama, Amy gets a talking devil tattoo that keeps teasing Kif for being so cheap. She also has several on her butt.
Devil Tattoo: I can't wait to tell the tattoos on Amy's butt about this!
Male Voice: About what?!
Female Voice: Tell us!
- In Infinity Train, passengers from Earth receive glowing green numbers on their hand. The initial number is a measurement of how serious the psychological issue the person has and the number can change as a result of their actions and thoughts. Do things to improve yourself? Your number lowers until it eventually reaches zero and can return home. Continue to engage in poor behaviors and thought patterns? Your number rises; be a Jerkass long enough and it'll eventually go off your hand to cover your arm and the rest of your body until it runs out of room... then it starts going inside your mouth.
- In the Merrie Melodies short "Love and Curses", a sailor takes a deep puff from his cigar, then exhales it through the chimney of the boat tattooed on his chest.
- SheZow villain Tattoozala can bring to life the wild creature tattoos on his skin by intoning the word "incubate".
- This was the power of the villain Tattoo Man on The Super Globetrotters.
- Two aged sailors in the Terrytoons short "The Sailor's Home" show each other their tattoos. One of them has a snake on his arm, which the other doesn't care about, and a rose on his head. The other sailor takes a closer look at the rose and a bee flies out of it. The other sailor then shows off the mermaid tattooed on his chest, which he claims depicts the mermaid he married in his youth. She abandoned him when he returned to the surface, but the memory of her literally dove onto his chest and became a tattoo.
- 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.