Becoming Manga by Zoe Burgess


So I’m a girl on a mission, an otaku (obsessive collector or something one is passionate about) mission to find a full way to express how much I love my anime fandom.

In short, to find the ultimate cosplay. It started out as a small and simple rose tattoo on my back. But that gave way to a love of tattoos generally and a belief that your body is your canvas. I like artwork so much that I thought, ‘You know what? Skin is another place you can put artwork’, so I decided to turn my body into pages of manga, bringing that beautiful art style right to my skin. I chose not to put colour in my tattoos because you do not put colour in manga. Before I knew it I had a desire to turn myself into a living manga.

Why cosplay a manga character when I could cosplay the manga itself?

Since I’m female I call my style and cosplay Shoujo Manga. Shoujo manga has two meanings: traditionally, it’s the name of the genre of manga and anime designed for women; secondly, it literally means ‘girl manga’, which is what I am.

My first tattoo was a rose I got on my back while I was in Ibiza, basically chosen for the fact that I was in love with a series called Rose of Versailles. This was the start, something to symbolise one of the strongest and most beautiful women on film and symbolise how I wanted to take inspiration from her.

Next, I have a quarter sleeve on my right hand side which I had done while in South Korea. I have another quarter sleeve on my left side which I had done in Osaka in Japan. I also have tear drops on my shoulders, butterflies on my clavicle and the Xxxholic symbol on my wrist.

tattoo8The Xxxholic symbol is made of my three favourite fandoms, X-files, X-men and X/1999. I wanted something small to symbolise the shows I love the most and to remind myself of the fandoms that inspired and entertained me the most.

My sleeves are compositions of different iconographies from different fandoms patch-worked together taking particular styles, themes, and artworks and putting them into butterfly themes. Butterflies in Japan have a specific mythology to them; they are the messengers between beings of the spirit world. You mix that with their metaphorical meaning for Bisexuality and to me they are a symbol of strength, spiritual power, and beauty! They indicate that in all I do, all of my choices are supported by inner strength and a desire to fly freely.

I was rather strict when it came to choosing each tattoo, because they are all from animes, I had rules for myself: no characters of people could be used, I had to have loved the series for a few years to make sure it wasn’t a fad tattoo, and they had to fit the mythology I was creating for myself (one informed by ideals of strength, beauty, spiritualism, destiny and freedom).

tattoo2The first one I got on my right sleeve is Hollow Ichigo’s mask but it is done in a certain way that it is surrounded by smoke and in the motif of a butterfly. I love Bleach and the idea of inner strength combined with something seen as evil or dark is actually something I find beautiful and heroic. Because I love the mask designs in Bleach in particular, it was like wearing a mask as a shield for me. Plus, Bleach centres around Shinigami (death god) lore which I love. In Japan, Shinigami’s are like Grimm reapers but instead of having a totally negative connotation, they are in fact the ones that protect us from the spirit world. Shinigami fight lost souls, demons and those that would corrupt human souls. It made sense that I wanted to have my own shield against the unseen world of spirits. I have also got the word “Shinigami” to emphasise my love for Shinigami lore; also, it’s tied to the motif of butterflies as the messengers.



I have also got Lelouch-sama’s mask from one of the Clamp art books. I adore Clamp, they are my favourite manga team, and I adore their art. Clamp are the best artists and writers of Shoujo Manga and the majority of my tattoos have been inspired by them. I love Lelouch because he turns himself into the villain of his own story for the good of mankind, but more than that, he sacrifices everything for his sister so she can remain innocent and live in a free world. Beautiful message in a beautiful image.


After Clamp another favourite artist is Yuki Kaori. I took one of her iconic covers, which is a cross; I think Michael is posing with it, and it has butterflies hammered to it. I’m not religious, in fact I believe more in spirits and grey area… that the things we can’t see and don’t understand just exist on another plain parallel to us; sometimes they can be harmful and sometimes not, just don’t go aggravating them. But I wanted a cross on me because it’s a piece of iconography that doesn’t just belong to the Christian, it can be a symbol for others. Yuki Kaori’s Angel Sanctuary is an amazing read for turning religion on its head and sees the world of heaven and hell from a unique and more Japanese point of view.

tattoo5The next tattoo is another butterfly, again from Bleach with a moon design. The Sakura petals are specifically the Sakura petals used by Seishir? from the Tokyo Babylon manga and the butterflies on my chest are the Tyki Mikk’s butterflies from D’gray Man. These make up the rest of my right side, again all my favourite artists and iconography.

On my left hand side I have a giant tattoo all depicting my love of Death Note. Couldn’t leave one of the greatest anime out of my mission to become manga and again, this is one that deals with Shinigami lore.

I chose all the artwork I liked and then got tattoo artists to recreate my vision. When I have not designed them, I have taken them straight out of the manga and have instead, chosen the composition of the tattoo. I have never once second-guessed the fact that these will be on my body forever; I couldn’t imagine my body without the ink, it would look so lost and lonely. I have always said that there are two kinds of people when it comes to tattooing: people that will not get a tattoo or keep thinking about getting a tattoo but think ‘it will be on me forever’; and people for whom the thought ‘it will be on me forever’ doesn’t even cross their minds. The fact that these are going to be on my body forever never crosses my mind.

What goes through my head is that there is a patch of skin I think I can artistically enhance through expressing a love of a fandom. Even as my fandom changes, which they do, I still love them because great art never goes out of fashion. People don’t look at Picasso and think ‘I am over that now’, and the fact that I have it on my body makes no difference to me. I don’t think I will ever tire of looking at them.

The last piece is my back which compromises Youko’s summoning circle from Xxxholic/Tsubasa. As a wearer of a magic circle, I can draw strength from and focus my energy so that I can achieve all my goals and work hard to achieve everything I want. I also have a tattoo based on Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl) as it’s a great reminder to be careful what you wish for and how easy it is for us humans to fall into traps and curses that seal our fate. Lastly, I have one tattoo that isn’t anime and that’s the Fringe butterfly. It too is a beautiful and unique design, once you’re close you realise that the butterfly is in fact torn flesh over skeletal hands. One of the themes I love the most is beauty in imperfection, the beauty that comes from unconventional sources and that not everyone recognises. Some of us find attraction in darker images.


There is a downside of turning your body into the pages of manga and that’s when a new anime comes out and the iconography is so amazing you have to think of a way to incorporate it into a design.  I always get nervous when a new Clamp comes out; I know that there is going to be something in it I want to add. But I still have a lot of great skin to cover so I’m sure I’ll find a home for some of the images I’ve fallen for that didn’t make it onto the back piece.

As for the experience of getting the tattoos I have some interesting stories around them. I lived in South Korea before I went to Japan so I started getting tattoos while I was there. In Korea it is illegal, you have to have a practicing medical licence and be a registered doctor to be able to change somebody’s body. Obviously tattoo artists are not doctors. Tattooing is kind of like this weird underground hidden art form. As many of you know, Koreans produce some amazing manga and most of the anime you watch now is created by Korean artists. I knew the calibre of artistry in Korea would be just as impressive. It is a little bit more of a ‘Ninja’ process in Korea as you have to try and find a secret tattoo den. The parlour I went to was a high class establishment and all the artists had dual American passports so if they ever get caught they could always turn around and say ‘I am American and therefore I can tattoo’. You can tell by looking at the tattoo artwork on my arm just how amazing they are, I would literally turn up with pages of manga and drawings and say, ‘can you combines these’ and out it came onto my body.

Although the Koreans were amazing, in Japan it was so nice to have tattooing as more of an open thing. Having said that, my Japanese tattoo has a crazy story. I was out in Osaka, I knew I wanted a tattoo done I just didn’t know where or when I was going to get it. I was trying to find a more alternative place to go drinking than the usual hip hop bars when I saw a place called the ‘Black Star Tattoo Bar’. I wondered, ‘is it a bar? Is it a tattoo parlour? I don’t really know’. I trundled up the stairs and basically, by day it’s a tattoo parlour and in the evening, the staff packs up their equipment and has a bar which they open for business so you can drink with them. I had some drinks with them and started talking to one of the artists. At 2 o’clock in the morning they called another tattoo artist down and said this girl wants a tattoo. I literally sat at the bar after a couple of pints describing this Death Note tattoo that I really wanted and he said come back tomorrow and we’ll do it. I came back the next day and 3 hours later a beautiful Death Note tattoo appeared on my arm. It hurt like hell and bled and bled like you would not believe. Never drink beer before having a tattoo, it thins the blood and you bleed everywhere!



I think I have now racked up at least 30 hours of work on my body. I’ve experienced some of the most excruciating pain and some of the strangest feelings ever, but they are definitely so worth it. The fact that it has been 2 years since my last tattoo means I am in serious withdrawal. My last work was done in London. I found the most amazing tattooist who did my back piece for me, so if you’re looking for high quality work, go see Edgar at Old London Road tattoo Studio.  




The last part of my project was finding the ultimate dress to go with the tattoos and as any good cosplayer knows, if you can’t find one, make one! In the end I bought white fabric and hand drew scenes from my favourite Shoujo Manga tiles onto it.









Each panel was sewn together in a dress befitting a otaku mad artist with an extreme passion for manga, anime and black ink!!


My advice to anyone who wants to get an anime related tattoo is make sure it’s a fandom that you have loved for a while. I have loved Clamp since I got into anime so by the time I was old enough to have a tattoo, I knew exactly what I wanted. It was just a case of piecing it together and you just know in your heart that it is what you want. Everyone is different, some people like putting characters on their body. I am not like that because I come from a slightly different background where the iconography and the meaning behind the stories are more important to me. Do not jump into it if you are not ready, or are not sure it’s something you truly love.


My name is Zoe Burgess, I’m a professional geek! Well that’s the dream. I am working towards my Anime PhD and do cosplayer and anime panels. You can find me as @lonedreameryaoi on twitter and as Let Zoe Spoil You on various social networks, such as youtube and tumblr. My personal weblog is

Enjoy Zoe’s GEEKyness? Why not read her other blogs for WeGEEKEDThis.

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