Lions are known as the King of Beasts.
Typically, when someone gets a lion tattoo, they choose the striking male lion.
Lions as we know them have golden fur, amber eyes, and large bushy manes.
The male lion loves to sunbathe with a serene expression.
The male lion has a combination of tranquility, and the ability to take charge when needed.
This gives them a regal quality. Lions are often associated with royalty as a result.
Lion Tattoo Styles
Lion tattoos are popular because the lion can be depicted in so many ways.
They are typically drawn in a portrait style to capture all of the beautiful details.
For a lion portrait tattoo, you’ll need a lot of skin real estate.
Even if you are just getting the head and mane, which is a common choice, your artist will need lots of space.
This is the only way to make those wild details pop.
Many people choose to get their lion tattoo in black & grey or with a golden, sepia tone.
That said, some hints of color can give your piece an individual touch.
Some people like to get creative with lion tattoos, giving them a more abstract artistic look.
Lions have become a cool choice in the watercolor tattoo world.
They may be ferocious beasts, but their long flowing locks give them a soft, feminine feel.
Some artists like to play that duality up.
They may replace the lion’s mane with flowers, feathers, or even constellations.
If you’re someone with a healthy serving of masculine and feminine traits, you may like this option.
A lion with masc and femme elements can reflect how you feel on the inside.
There are so many lions in pop culture, and some lion tattoos are a reference to specific characters.
This is a fun way to show off your fandom and start conversations with like-minded people.
These lion tattoos are typically more playful, and may be done in a cartoony or New School tattoo style.
Lion Tattoo Symbolism
In American pop culture, lions generally have a reputation for being courageous.
They are depicted as having leadership abilities and a benevolent personality type.
When a cartoon King is drawn as a lion or with lion-like traits, it is generally because he is a good leader.
There are very few evil lion characters.
Depending on the style of your lion tattoo, it may symbolize different things.
Lions are such a symbolic fixture in so many cultures.
To decide what style of lion tattoo you should go with, try researching the many legends about lions.
Once you find something that resonates with you, an artist will be able to help you pay a respectful homage.
Let’s dive into lion tattoo meanings and symbolism in different cultures!
How did they get their regal and courageous reputation, and what are some of the more popular lion legends?
African Lion Symbolism
When an African artist chooses a creature for their work, they do it with the animal’s symbolism in mind.
There are different art styles across Africa.
Lions may have a slightly different meaning depending on the region.
Overall, putting a male lion in an art piece symbolizes royalty, wisdom, and courage.
Female lions represent maternal instincts and the moon.
Both male and female lions symbolize protection.
With that in mind, a lion tattoo may be a good companion for difficult times in your life.
Alternatively, it may symbolize the courage and wisdom it took to get you out of a bad situation.
It’s worth noting that there are also many African folktales about terrifying lions.
In many of these folktales, animals find ways to outsmart the lion and escape its clutches.
Though lions are revered as a symbol, they are hunters and will do what they need to do to get fed.
To admire a lion is also to acknowledge its primal nature.
They are regal and courageous, yes, but they are animals in the truest sense of the word.
A lion tattoo may be a good way to remind you to be aware of your primal nature, but in control of it.
Greek Mythology About Lions
The Greek mythology around lions is less about their courage and royalty.
The legend of the Nemean lion has more to do with their ferocious nature.
Before Heracles was a hero in Greek legend, he was a murderer.
Driven mad by Hera, he ended up murdering his own wife and children.
Heracles was horrified at what he had done and prayed to Apollo for a way to redeem himself.
Apollo said that Heracles would need to serve King Eurystheus.
Heracles did not respect Eurystheus, but agreed to humble himself.
He was told he would have to complete 12 seemingly impossible tasks.
These are known as the 12 labors of Heracles.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the Roman equivalent of Heracles is Hercules.
The two stories have become conflated over time. They are the same.
Heracles’ first task was to kill an unstoppable lion monster.
The lion had been terrorizing the people of Nemea, and was known as the Nemean lion.
Many people had tried to kill the lion, but its golden fur was impenetrable by weapons.
Heracles told Eurystheus that he would return from the task in 30 days.
Managing to lure the lion into a cave, he grabbed the great beast’s throat and choked it to death.
He then carried the dead lion’s body back to Eurystheus.
The King was so surprised that Heracles was able to kill the lion, he became terrified by the hero’s strength.
He built a hiding spot for himself so he could avoid Heracles when necessary.
For the remaining 11 labors, Eurystheus sent a herald to deliver the instructions.
He would not dare to look Heracles in the face, his strength was so great.
The moral of the story may be interpreted in different ways.
One idea is that you must work hard to redeem yourself for your unthinkable actions.
The first task Heracles was handed should have killed him, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
He literally got hands-on with it, using his brute strength.
Lesser men may have given up, but Heracles was truly remorseful and ready to do what he needed to do.
Have you faced a trial of your own, and were you brave enough to admit fault and redeem yourself?
The lion of Nemea may be a great tattoo choice for you!
Chinese Lion Symbolism
Lions have never lived in the wild in China.
But the people of ancient China would have heard of lions through travelers and silk traders.
Though most of the world’s lions live in Africa, a small population of them can be found in India.
People in China likely learned about lions through Indian people and their art.
Chinese lions have a distinct look to them, and are a popular tattoo symbol.
They do not really resemble real lions, likely because they were based on hearsay.
But that’s what makes Chinese lions so special!
You’ve likely heard of guardian lions, the statues that guard Buddhist temples.
These lions evolved from an Indian design, were embraced in China, and can be found in Korea and Japan today.
Chinese guardian lions, whether they are in art, statue, or tattoo form, always come in pairs.
The two lions represent the dual nature of the animal.
In China, the lion represents calmness and energy, lively happiness, and peace.
They both contrast and complement one another.
The images communicate the idea of yin and yang, the opposing qualities that govern the whole universe.
Feeling out of balance? Maybe a Foo Dog Tattoo will help.
The Legend of Nian
Another fun lion legend from China corresponds with the Lunar New Year.
The story takes place hundreds of years ago in a small village.
Each year, a lion-like monster would terrorize the village.
People surrendered to the beast by staying inside and locking their doors and windows.
They lived in fear of being killed by the monster.
The next day they would find their village torn to shreds by Nian, and would clean up the mess.
One year on the night of Nian, an old beggar came through the village asking for a place to stay.
When no one would open their doors, a woman explained to him that they were frightened.
She begged him to be safe and leave the village. She told him his life would be in danger if he stayed.
The man told her that if she let him stay, he would show her how to defeat Nian. Dubious, she opened her door to the man.
That night when Nian came, he was drawn to the light coming from that woman’s house.
The man had covered her doors and windows with red decorations and lit bright lights.
When Nian approached, the man set off firecrackers and played a loud drum. Frightened, Nian scampered off into the night.
This legend is the basis for many of China’s New Year colors and customs.
Each year the people gather together to ward off Nian and drum up some positive energy for the village.
The Lion Dance
Another piece of the Lunar New Year celebration in China is the lion dance.
This dance is for good luck, and to ward off evil spirits like Nian.
Two dancers get into an elaborate lion costume and dance to music made by drums, gongs, and symbols.
In the South, the dances tend to mimic a lion’s movements like scratching and licking. In the North, the movements are martial arts-based.
Some people pay homage to their Chinese roots with a lion dance tattoo.
The striking colors and cartoonish features of the costume make for a beautiful design.
Why not ward off evil spirits all year long?
Lion Symbolism in the United Kingdom
Lions have been a large part of heraldry in the United Kingdom since 1189.
During this time, King Richard I “The Lionheart” was in power.
He is depicted as a real lion in Disney’s 1973 portrayal of Robin Hood.
King Richard was compared to a lion because he was a great military leader.
In the United Kingdom, lions are seen as symbols of courage and bravery.
On the official coat of arms for the UK- A lion (England) stands with a unicorn (Scotland).
The ferociousness of the lion symbol is balanced out by the Unicorn’s purity and innocence.
A lion tattoo in England may represent your patriotism and dedication to the monarchy.
Lion Symbolism in Tarot Cards
Tarot, a very old form of divination, is gaining more popularity in the mainstream lately.
Many people may want to be marked by their favorite cards.
The lion in the tarot card “Strength” represents your primal nature.
A lion kills not because it is cruel, but because it is in its nature.
In the strength card, a woman approaches the lion with love, taming him.
This is another example of the union of opposites concept.
The card suggests to tame your wild nature with a gentle, feminine strength.
The primal lion and the fair maiden balance one another out.
In other cards, the lion represents Leo, one of the fixed signs of the zodiac.
Leo is ruled by the element of fire, so it’s well suited to someone with a passionate way about them.
Are you a Leo sun? Maybe a lion tattoo in the style of your favorite tarot card would be a nice birthday gift!
Lion Symbolism in American Pop Culture
The most famous lion in American pop culture is Disney’s The Lion King.
Simba’s story has been told and retold. In animation, on Broadway, and through impressive modern techniques in the live-action remake.
Simba leaves his pride in shame when he is a young cub.
What he doesn’t realize is that he has ultimately abandoned his family, and they struggle without him.
When Simba owns his power and decides to redeem himself, the order is restored. This is a similar narrative to Heracles.
If you choose to get a tattoo of your favorite cartoon lion, you may be paying homage to your coming of age.
It can also be a dedication to serve your community as an effective leader. Or maybe you just can’t wait to be king!
Main Themes in Lion Tattoos
Lion tattoos can be interpreted in many different ways depending on their look and feel.
When you start to look at inspiration for your lion tattoo, think about why you’re drawn to this particular animal.
Do you admire their hunting prowess, or is it more about the regality of a male lion bathing in the sun?
Maybe you want a tattoo to represent your family and a lion pride resonates with you and your offspring.
Let’s go through a few common tattoo designs in lion tattoos, what they represent, and how they may be interpreted by an onlooker.
Roaring Lion Tattoos
A roaring lion commands attention, striking fear into all who hear it.
A lion may use its roar to warn their pride of incoming danger or to assert their dominance.
Lions do not shy away from a challenge, and they don’t mind causing a stir when they need to.
A roaring lion tattoo could be a worthy talisman for a person who isn’t afraid to speak their truth and show themselves to the world.
It could also be a great tattoo design for someone who is trying to become more confident and outspoken.
Roaring lions are an empowering reminder to make your presence known and take up space.
Roaring lion tattoos are also used to represent those who will protect the people they love by any means necessary.
It’s a truly powerful symbol and dynamic tattoo design.
Baby Lion Tattoos
Lion cubs look soft and cuddly, but it only takes them about three years to become fully grown, so don’t underestimate these little guys.
A baby lion tattoo on its own represents potential.
This would be suitable for someone who is at the beginning of a challenging journey and isn’t afraid of the obstacles that await them.
If you’re planning on coming out the other end as a warrior, a baby lion tattoo will remind you of that goal.
Lion and cub tattoos are a popular choice for new parents.
Because lions are so fiercely protective of their young, this could be the perfect way to show the world your dedication to your kids.
Lion Tattoos with Crown
Lions maintain a kind of social order in the wild and have dominion over all the other animals due to their superior strength.
This is why we commonly associate lions with royalty.
That, and their regal gaze as they survey their kingdom.
Lion tattoos with crowns tend to symbolize leadership.
Have you recently taken a more dominant role in your life, family, or place of work?
A crowned lion tattoo design will powerfully commemorate that transition.
Lion Tattoos with Roses
Many lion tattoo designs also feature rose tattoos.
The rose has a way of softening the fierceness of a lion, and that is by design.
Roses usually symbolize passion and beauty, especially in the feminine sense.
Lion tattoos with roses symbolize a balance between soft and strong, masculine and feminine.
It’s a beautiful tattoo design because there are times in life to be both soft and strong.
Being either consistently dominant or constantly vulnerable can destroy you in different ways.
There’s great value in knowing when to listen quietly and when to bare your teeth.
This tattoo design would be well suited to someone from either end of the spectrum who wants to achieve that balance.
Winged Lion Tattoos
Winged lions may represent different things, as they’re popular images in a few myths and folktales, including:
- The Griffin, a half lion half eagle that is considered the king of mythological creatures. Griffins are often featured on shields, crests, and suits of armor, representing power, prestige, and bravery.
- St. Mark the Evangelist, who had a vision of a winged lion in Venice. The lion was the form an angel chose to appear to him and deliver a message: “May Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist. Here your body will rest.” St. Mark keeps pretty busy as a patron to lawyers, pharmacists, secretaries, prisoners, and the sick/dying.
- Lamassu– a “chimera” and protective deity and guide from Sumerian mythology. Spot this figure in Mesopotamian art. As a tattoo, this winged lion is a protective symbol.
Because lions are dominant over the land, giving a lion wings would give it dominion over the sky as well.
This could be a worthy symbol for someone who wants to conquer many areas in life.
Lion Tattoo Designs
Lion tattoos are a beautiful representation of a beautiful beast!
Which symbolic meaning resonates most for you?
If you’re still not sure what type of design you’d like, take a look at our lion tattoo gallery for some of our faves.
Black And Grey Lion Tattoos
Lions are famous for their colorful manes, but black and grey tattoos prove that your lion doesn’t need color and contrast to be intimidating and fierce.
Black and grey tattoos can symbolize strength and perseverance as well as solemn severity.
A black and grey lion tattoo, then, is the perfect symbol of strength and fierce bravery.
Realistic Lion Tattoos
Realistic tattoos are the true epitome of intensity and strength.
With a lion tattoo, you’re already bringing in elements of strength and power.
A realistic lion tattoo combines the strength and guttural power of a genuine and realistic tattoo with the fierce muscular strength and beauty of a lion to create a powerful and surreal lion that grins back at anyone who looks at it.
Contemporary Lion Tattoos
Contemporary lion tattoos blend modern elements of color and architecture with the classic silhouette and style of a strong lion’s face.
These tattoos stand out as contemporary masterpieces that blend modern art and traditional lion styles for the perfect touch of strength and beauty.
With clean lines and colorful design styles, you can’t go wrong here!
One Line Lion Tattoos
These elegant, single-line tattoos bring out the feline grace that’s hidden within many powerful lions.
Strong, crisp line-work that’s all interconnected brings out the intricate detailing of the inner lion as well as adding shape, dimension, and grace to the natural outline of the beast.
A one line lion tattoo is a great symbol of grace, artistry, and feline power.
Graphic Lion Tattoos
The lion may not be traditionally considered to be geometrically sound, but graphic tattoos can bring geometrical grace to any animal, especially the lion.
With triangular mountains and elegant shaping, you can define the contours of the lion and create your own shape of the lion.
Elegant boxing and strong lines create a beautiful image of mathematical grace.
Illustrative Lion Tattoos
Illustrative tattoos bring new life and artistic glory to the stunning image of the lion.
With flowing manes, carefully detailed fur and muscle toning, and piercing eyes, your illustrative lion tattoo perfectly encapsulates detail, strength, and fierceness that comes to life from the artwork on your skin.
Single Needle Lion Tattoos
Lions can be delicate creatures, especially little lions.
Each whisker and chunk of fur is its own fine line or ink stroke, and with a single needle tattoo you can create a truly delicate and inspired, detailed piece.
A single needle lion tattoo represents the intricate detail and beauty that can be found in all lions especially with this unique and specific tattoo style.
Sketchy Lion Tattoos
Tattoos have been the subject of powerful pieces of art for many years, and for the artist or creator who feels drawn to these patron saints of powerful protectors, an artistic or sketchy rendering of your lion tattoo is the perfect way to honor your connection to art and power.
Sketchy lion tattoos combine artistic creativity and strength together for the perfect patron protector of expression and self. (See sketch tattoos!)
Mandala Lion Tattoos
Mandalas hold incredible religious significance with many communities because of their perfect symmetry and power.
Every mandala is uniquely created to represent a constant ebb and flow, a balance of the universe between good and bad, life and death.
Lions are a part of that circle of life, and a mandala lion tattoo connects the circle of life to lions and their journey of strength and power before they rest in death and continue to the next phase of their life.
Watercolor Lion Tattoos
Lions are traditionally associated as fierce and powerful animals, so to see them with pastel or more feminine watercolor designs and coloring is an exciting twist.
Watercolor tattoos help create the perfect design style that balances out the fresh and modern colors of today with the traditional styles and strong lion designs of the past, making them great for those who enjoy beauty, creativity, and strength.
Dot work tattoos are incredibly detailed and time-consuming tattoos that represent painstakingly detailed artwork and endless hours of creativity, art, and time spent to create the perfect masterpiece.
Lions themselves are impatient but majestic creatures, prone to wandering the savanna and carefully tracking prey.
A lion dot work tattoo might represent a careful and attentive tattoo style as well as a powerful and patient artist who can commit to the time it takes to create beautiful art.
Geometric Lion Tattoos
Geometric lion tattoos balance the natural symmetry and majesty of mathematics with the incredible power and reach of the natural lion in the wild.
The perfectly balanced and carefully designed lion heads and bodies are majestic and perfectly powerful, just as geometrical tattoo designs are too.
A geometric lion tattoo promises power, strength, and purpose all from your tattoo.
New School Lion Tattoos
New School tattoos elevate the incredible skill and strength of modern tattooists to new heights with incredible color, portraits, and art styles.
Contemporary color palettes, modern outlining designs, and glossy highlights are all par for the course in New School design, something that makes them a great choice for modern lion tattoos.
A New School lion tattoo signifies a willingness to boldly pursue the new and leave the past behind.
Black-work Lion Tattoos
Black-work ink often stands out as a severe, threatening, and powerful tattoo style that draws the eye in immediately and commands the attention of anyone who looks at it, much as a lion does in the wild.
A black-work tattoo might represent a lion’s strength and power and their ability to command their kingdom simply yet powerfully.
Abstract Lion Tattoos
Take your artistic commitment to the next level with an abstract lion that preserves all the best qualities of lions: their innate strength, intensity and power, and conserves them through abstract design and detailing.
An abstract lion tattoo is the perfect way to signal that you’re not just any artistic or tattoo fan, but one who thinks outside the box and enjoys the deeper and more complex themes in life.
Tribal Lion Tattoos
Tribal tattoos work to connect the cultural and indigenous histories of many communities with their spiritual ancestors.
Many places around the world consider lions to be a patron saint for them, and tribal lion tattoos are certainly no different.
Bring legends of power, strength, and protection with you wherever you go with a tribal lion tattoo!
Celtic Lion Tattoos
The eternal knots and connections of the Celtic tradition are a well-loved symbol of connection to ourselves, to our families, and to our heritage.
When connected in the shape of a lion, a Celtic tattoo might represent loyalty and bravery for our families and a commitment to protecting the ones we love.
Lion Tattoo Ideas
Ready to implement your favorite lion tattoo idea into real life?
Take these top notch lion tattoo styles and ideas and build them into your next tattoo plan quickly and easily!
Small Lion Tattoos
Small lion tattoos are designed to be the perfect tribute to the graceful and intimately powerful beings that are lions in real life.
A small lion tattoo is a personal reminder of your own strength and abilities that tucks into your existing tattoos perfectly as a simple and strong reminder of everything you’re capable of!
Simple Lion Tattoos
A simple lion tattoo is both powerful and consistent in terms of the silhouette and meaning.
Simple lion tattoos work to convey the most beautiful and meaningful of lion meanings, including their simple strength, power, and beauty.
A simple lion tattoo represents your desire to return to the basics and the simple power and beauty of lions.
Rastafarian Lion Tattoos
Rastafarian is a unique and colorful tattoo style that combines love and peace with the strength and fierceness of lions.
A Rastafarian lion tattoo is a fun way to add a colorful and personalized twist to you lion by incorporating the elements of peace, zen, and mellow positive energy into your lion tattoo.
Large Lion Tattoos
Large lion tattoos are an incredible statement of strength.
The huge face of a lion staring back at you is a powerful symbol of the royalty and power of the top of the animal food chain, and these strong and dominant figures take up plenty of space while conveying total power and authority as a large tattoo.
A large lion tattoo is a symbol of complete power and control over yourself as well as a sign that there’s nothing you’re not afraid of!
Mountain Lion Tattoos
Lions on their own are already a significant image that conveys a quiet beauty, strength, and grace, but when you pair them with nature’s powerful mountain landscape that meaning only gets doubled.
A mountain lion tattoo demonstrates the quiet powerful and intimately strong nature of lions and connects it to the peaceful yet breathtaking mountains as a sign of full natural power and ability.
Rampant Lion Tattoos
Many people find they have ties to certain royal or prestigious lineages that often use a lion as a predominant feature in their crests and symbols.
A rampant lion tattoo is often a representation of those historic lion houses, one that’s full of powerful historic strength and cultural significance that stretches back for generations.
Lion Sleeve Tattoos
A lion sleeve represents total commitment to the world and power of tattooing and lions.
With a dominant lion taking over your entire arm, you are showing to the world there’s nothing you’re afraid of and that you’re constantly protected by an incredibly strong and protective lion and that you carry a reminder of their strength and force with you always.
Lion Tattoo Placement
Once you’ve settled on the perfect lion tattoo, it’s time to determine where on your body you want to put your tattoo!
Each location on your body has special significance to both yourself and others, so think carefully about where you want your new tattoo to go!
Lion Tattoos on Forearm
A lion tattoo on your forearm is a powerful reminder to anyone who meets you of strength, protection, and defense.
The forearm is one of the most visible parts of the body, and a forearm tattoo is the perfect way to explore and defend your intense connection to these natural defenders.
Sternum Lion Tattoos
For people who want to keep their protection close to their heart, a sternum lion tattoo is the perfect way to keep a protector and guardian lion close and personal at all times.
These tattoos are intimate and personal as well as impressively detailed and designed, so your sternum tattoo is often a very personal masterpiece only the lucky few can appreciate.
Lion Tattoos on Shoulder Blade
A lion tattoo on a shoulder blade is a great place to tuck a tattoo if you want more space to work in an intense portrait but don’t want to take up your entire back or chest.
A shoulder blade lion tattoo is the perfect way to appreciate the power and beauty of lions fully with plenty of space to explore the details of the lion in all their fierce strength.
Lion Tattoos on Arm
Putting a variety of lion tattoos on your arm is a great way to create your own tribute to the animal kingdom in a personal way.
Lion tattoos on your arm are a great way to carry reminders of their strength and guardianship with you always as well as creating places for you to incorporate other animal themes into your arm tattoo for a total animal tribute.
Lion Tattoos on Calf
A lion tattoo on your calf is a great place to tuck a lion tattoo if you want to keep your tattoo personal and specific to you.
Easily hidden yet still visible and powerful if you want it to be, you can create your own lion tattoo and customize your own reminder of strength and protection that will always be carried with you.
Lion Tattoos on Chest
The lion tattoo is a popular chest piece because it’s an impressive and detailed artwork that stands out immediately on your skin.
The fierce roar and growl of the lion head from your chest shows you’re protected and supported from your lion tattoo that demonstrates strength and sheer force.
Lion Tattoos on Hand
A lion tattoo on your hand is a sign that there’s nothing you’re not afraid of.
Hand tattoos are some of the more painful tattoos to have done and often need many touch-ups throughout their life.
A lion tattoo on your hand shows to anyone who shakes your hand that you’re instantly protected and capable of handling intense situations easily.
Lion Tattoo Artists