There are some cultural symbols that commonly stand for overcoming adversity in tattoo design, including the Koi fish, the Aya, and the Phoenix. It must be remembered that a tattoo is very personal and may mean something entirely different from person to person.
Koi fish are a common figure in Japanese myths and legends. They are transformed in fables to depict their effort and perseverance. They can be pictured climbing waterfalls or even becoming dragons. Their associations make Koi fish great representatives of diligence in the face of adversity.
The Aya, an African symbol, represents the fern. The fern is a delicate but robust plant that flourishes even in the harshest environments. It is understood that the wearer of an Aya symbol has endured hardships and survived.
The Phoenix is a symbol that makes appearances in many different cultures. They usually represent purification and transformation through adversity. Their associations are a result of the legend of the Phoenix being reborn out of the fire from its ashes.