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The act of permanently branding your own skin with an artistic design of your choosing has steadily become a commonplace and more widely accepted part of our culture. Everybody with a tat has an interesting story to tell about the first (and/or last) time they got inked, which is why we now celebrate National Tattoo Story Day on September 16, as a way to honor the symbolic meaning of (or crazy story associated with) one’s body art. A great way to hear some great tattoo stories from around the world is by binging some of the most popular tattoo shows now available to stream, such as Ink Master, which is the first on our surprisingly lengthy list.
Ink Master (Netflix, Paramount+)
One of the most popular reality shows that puts the spotlight on people who, literally, apply their artistic talents onto their clients’ bodies is Ink Master, most likely for its competitive nature. Hosted by Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, the series sees the most skilled tattoo artists in the world put to the ultimate test in the hope of being the last one standing and winning a $100,000 prize. In 2020, the show was cancelled after eight years on the Paramount Network (still called Spike when it premiered), but it was announced in early 2021 that it would be revived on Paramount+, where you can also stream every season so far.
Ink Master Angels (Paramount+)
Ink Master would inspire three spin-offs, including Ink Master: Redemption (which gave artists the chance to correct their mistakes on a previous, unsatisfied client) and Ink Master: Grudge Match (which saw former contestants who formed rivalrous relationships on the show pitted against each other). Arguably the most fun of the bunch so far, however, is Ink Master Angels. It follows Season 8 all-stars Ryan Ashley, Kelly Doty, Nikki Simpson and Gia Rose traveling the country to compete against other talented inkers with the big twist being that the surrounding audience gets to be the judge.
Miami Ink (Discovery+)
A far less competitive, but very popular, tattoo reality show (and one of the first of its kind, too) is Miami Ink. First premiering on TLC in 2005, the series follows the professional lives of artists working at the prolific, Florida-based tattoo parlor Love Hate Tattoo, which was originally called 305 Ink when it opened a year before the series’ debut. Celebrity guests - such as comedian Craig Ferguson and former Jackass cast member Bam Margera - would appear on the show to get inked, which made celebrities out of many of the artists, including Kat Von D.
LA Ink (Discovery+)
Miami Ink would also inspire multiple spin-offs that profiled tattoo parlors all over the world, but the first would take us to the West Coast with Kat Von D along for the ride. After the famed tattoo artist, actress, and producer decided to move back to California, she opened up her own shop called High Voltage Tattoo (later renamed American Electric), which became the setting of her own reality show, LA Ink, in 2007.
NY Ink (Discovery+)
Another Love Hate Tattoo alum who would later get his own show spun-off of Miami Ink is Israeli-American artist Ami James. His time as the owner of New York City’s Wooster St. Social Club (later called Five Points Tattoo) was the subject of NY Ink on TLC from 2011 to 2013. The series also had its fair share of celebrity clientele, including Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor, rapper and actor Method Man, and actress Bai Ling.
Black Ink Crew: New York (Netflix, Hulu, Paramount+)
Another popular New York City-based tattoo reality shows (and another one of the best shows on Netflix relating to the topic) is Black Ink Crew: New York, which first premiered on VH1 in 2013 and followed the ambitions of shop owner David “Caesar” Emanuelle to branch out his empire while occasionally butting heads with his subordinates. Celebrity guest stars are also a regular occurrence on the long-running series, but the drama that goes on between staff (whether it be based on professional courtesy, personal rivalry, or even a few romantic conflicts) is off the hook, and the true key element of its popularity.
Black Ink Crew: Chicago (Paramount+)
When it first aired, Black Ink Crew: New York was simply called Black Ink Crew, but it had to update to a more geographically specific title after its success (in the tradition of other tattoo shows like Miami Ink) inspired a few follow-ups. The first spin-off, Black Ink Crew: Chicago, premiered on VH1 in 2015 and followed a group of artists from the Windy City, but this time with a more heartfelt approach to exposing the relationships between these professional inkers and their friends and families.
Epic Ink (Pluto TV)
For those who have never found inspiration for their body art from a pop culture-based perspective, have we got a show for you. In 2014, A&E premiered Epic Ink, which puts the spotlight on the crew of Oregon-based tattoo parlor Area-51, who specialize mainly in creating masterfully detailed designs inspired by popular movies, TV show, comic books, and other mediums. The series was a great match for fans of both tattoo culture and all things geektastic for the one season it aired.
Rumble & Hum (Tubi)
We have already covered several tattoo reality shows filmed in the United States, so why don’t we branch out to another country. Rumble & Hum (which refers to the sound a tattoo machine makes) is a series that premiered in 2017 and follows one of the South Africa’s most acclaimed and award-winning artists, Lewis “Vudulew” Williams, and his experiences running a tattoo and body piercing shop with his friends and colleagues, Cole Moebius and Adrianne Black. Much like Epic Ink, it is not so much the staff drama that draws viewers into the series, but the celebration of the art itself and passion that goes into the craft.
Tattoo Tales (Tubi)
Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, is where Tattoo Tales was filmed for its eight-episode, one-season run in 2015. Five cameras were rigged in the busy tattoo parlor that served as the stage for a series of uplifting true stories that inspired the designs you see in this refreshingly immersive tattoo reality show that aims to put the clients in the spotlight.
Bad Ink (Amazon Prime, Tubi)
Of course, not every tattoo parlor experience is a genuine reflection of artistic passion or really much to celebrate, especially from the point of view of the client. That is where Las Vegas-based tattoo artist Dirk Vermin and Rob Ruckus (his friend and bandmate from the pop punk band The Vermin) come in. On the A&E original series, Bad Ink (also one of the best shows on Amazon Prime about the topic), this pair seek out the most egregiously ugly examples of body art that they can find and offer the victims a solid by reinventing the designs into something beautiful as best as they can.
Tattoo Fixers Extreme UK (Hulu)
The art of reconfiguring unfortunate body art into something better is also practiced and filmed for your entertainment overseas. In the hit British reality show Tattoo Fixers (also known as Tattoo Fixers Extreme UK in the United States), the most talented professional inkers from the United Kingdom take in people who are dissatisfied with tattoos they received earlier and help them finally achieve what they hope they can display proudly on their skin. The show would also inspire a few spin-offs, including Sketch’s Prison Ink, in which famed artist and Tattoo Fixers regular Sketch explores the act of non-professional tattoos - particularly by those behind bars.
Tattoo Redo (Netflix)
Netflix has also recently jumped on the trend of body art renovation with the premiere of Tattoo Redo in 2021. Like other shows of a similar setup which we have previously spotlighted, this reality show sees unhappy customers (or even losers of an ill-fated bet) being brought in by loved ones to have their ink covered up, but this one comes with a twist. Not only will the client not see the new tat until it is finished, but the person who signed them up for the redo is the one who gets the final word on the design.
Whether you have one tattoo or more, are thinking of getting yourself inked someday, or the thought of procedure alone makes your squeamish, it is still hard not to get wrapped up in the drama of these shows. What better way to celebrate National Tattoo Story Day than hearing about all the different reasons one gets their own body art with this epic binge.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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