Dragon Tattoos: Symbolism and Meaning

One could say that the dragon is one of the most popular mythological creatures of all time. Some people think that our ancestral memory confuses them with dinosaurs but it seems unlikely, given that dinosaurs were long gone before any early humans were around.

Others think that the dragon is based on real living creatures such as the Komodo dragon. And some people even believe that dragons represent reptilian aliens who are here to study and terrorize us.

Whatever the case, dragons have many meanings throughout the east and the west. They appear on flags, on T-shirts, in heraldic designs, and in jewelry. In fact, some people love the idea of dragons so much that they even collect things with dragons on them. Of course, it should go without saying that dragons make for awesome tattoos as well.

A Divide Between East and West

If one were to try and sum up what dragons mean to various cultures around the world, it would be fair to say that they have positive associations in the east and negative associations in the west.

In the Christian tradition, the dragon is most definitely a bad omen. It is associated with evil and bad intentions. The story of the snake tempting Eve with the apple is essentially the tale of a reptile doing evil and causing the fall of mankind. In this sense, the dragon is a reptile to be feared. It is brutal and vicious as well as cunning and devious.

Just think of all of the dragons that needed to be killed in medieval folklore. Both St. George and Beowulf had to slay vicious serpents. Tristan was also a dragon slayer.

The story of the dragon is very different in places such as Japan, Korea, and China. In these countries, it is very strongly associated with other values such as good fortune, sexual potency and passion, strength, masculinity, wisdom and intelligence, the spiritual, mastery of nature, prosperity, and destruction and creation.

The once-popular TV series Monkey explores a famous Buddhist pilgrimage tale. During their journey, the characters encounter a wide variety of mythical creatures. The dragon is depicted as the Chinese variant without the bellicose attitude of the European dragon and without the bat-like wings. They are often associated with the natural elements such as water, earth, air, and fire.

The Dragon in Fantasy Games

This European tradition of slaying dragons also comes to us in the form of a game such as Dungeons and Dragons. In this game, players were part of a narrated storyline and played fantasy characters that routinely had to slay evil creatures.

The dragon is one of the most iconic creatures in the game and represents one of the pinnacles of heroic combat. In this sense, the game draws strongly on the Jewish and Christian traditions that associate the dragon with Satan.

The Dragon in Fiction

Perhaps one of the most iconic fantasy dragons of all time is Smaug in Tolkein’s The Hobbit. This vicious red dragon is not only incredibly old but also intelligent and vicious. He has a penchant for gold and other treasures and guards them in his mountaintop retreat. Smaug also terrorizes local villagers until he is shot down by a special large arrow and killed.

Really, there is no shortage of dragons in fantasy fiction, from Puff the Magic Dragon who lives by the sea to Smaug. And many people who have deep connections to the fiction of their childhood choose an iconic dragon to have as a tattoo.

The Chinese Dragon

In China, the dragon form is long and serpent-like. It may lack the bat wings of its European counterpart but it can still fly gracefully through the air using magic. In fact, there are numerous festivals in Chinese culture that feature dragons decorated with all manner of bells and jewels.

For the Chinese, the dragon is iconic and represents wisdom, power, good luck, strength, and longevity. They are also strongly associated with the natural elements and can interact with humans from time to time.

The Japanese Dragon

China is not the only Far East culture that views the dragon as iconic. There are six distinct dragons in Japanese myth, each with their own meanings and color variation:

  • Sue-Riu (the king of dragons)
  • Han-Riu (a very large striped dragon)
  • Kai-Riu (a small red dragon)
  • Ri-Riu, Fuku Riu (a dragon of good luck)
  • Hai-Riu (a dragon bird)

Maybe one of the most famous Fuku Riu dragons in eastern fiction is Falcor the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story. Falcor is a lucky dragon and simply glides gracefully through the sky without the large wings of the European dragons.

The color of the dragon also matters in terms of what it means. These colors are often popular:

  • A green dragon is often smaller and represents the natural world and life
  • The red dragon is often associated with masculinity and strength
  • A gold dragon symbolizes wisdom, intelligence, and kindness
  • A blue dragon is lazy but also compassionate and forgiving

Dragon Tattoo Ideas

There are so many types of dragons and so many variations that it can be hard to figure out which one you might choose for a tattoo. The dragon also means different things to different people across cultures and you may have some profound attachment to any number of stories and meanings associated with the dragon.

If you’re rooted in European myth, you may favor the dragon with bat wings and fiery breath. You may find that fictional representations such as Smaug appeal to your inner geek or your experience playing Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager.

Whatever the case, here are some great dragon tattoo ideas:

  • The Eastern or Asian Dragon: Long, serpent-like, and magical, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese dragons symbolize many positive things such as good luck, strength, and prosperity. They make for an ideal tattoo because the long and serpent-like body can cover a wide area and coil around arms and legs, making for an eye-catching design.
  • A Sleeping Dragon: Maybe your strength and power is best represented by a sleeping dragon guarding a treasure. Or maybe you simply love the idea of a dragon hoarding wealth and fiercely protecting it.
  • Ouroboros: The circular serpent eating its own tail is a very ancient symbol that represents the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is also ideal as a tattoo wrapped around a finger if you want something more discreet.
  • The Gothic Dragon: This classic European dragon looks fierce and strong. It has huge wings and is ready to breathe fire. This dragon is strong and powerful. It symbolizes our most primal instincts and has strong ties to the Christian and European mythical tradition.
  • A Dragon Claw: The claw of the dragon represents personal strength and is appropriate for a person who considers themselves strong and fearless in life.


The dragon is one of the most revered mythical creatures in both east and west. It takes on so many forms and colors that it can be difficult to choose just one if you want a tattoo. The good news is that whatever dragon you choose and whatever dragon tradition you feel closest to, there is definitely one that will suit you.

10 Dragon Tattoo Examples

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