Close this search box.

The story behind the mysterious Japanese-style art popping-up on billboards

You may have seen some unique red, white and black billboards across town, with Japanese Kanjis and bold punch images emblazoned on them...

We’ve been wondering for weeks what the beautiful and striking red and black paintings could be that have popped up near Cornbrook, the Northern Quarter and the Piccadilly trading estate.

Manchester’s Amazing Street Art

The answer is two incredible graffiti artists, Hy One, from Leeds and Tetsuo, an artist from Manchester.

Drawing inspiration from the iconic anime Japanese culture and imagery and the dynamic world of hip-hop culture, Hy One, and Tetsuo infuse their graffiti with energy and vibrancy.

Using striking red, black, and white colours against contrasting backgrounds ensures their art stands out.

Their unique murals have added a welcome splash of colour in places begging for a bit of love.

Graffiti Artists Tetsuo and Hy One

Tetsuo’s journey into the world of graffiti began as a fascination with the colourful expressions that stood out amongst urban scenery across the northwest.

Hailing from Stretford, Tetsuo was drawn into the art form by the interesting and unique graffiti adorning the walls of Hulme in the 1990s.
art flourished in the neighbourhood, inspiring him to get involved.

Over time, this fascination evolved into a passion, and he found himself experimenting with various styles and techniques, seeking to leave his mark on the ever-evolving canvas that the city provided.

We spoke to Hy One, who told us the meanings behind the recent unique artworks on billboards in Manchester

“These are pieces that pay homage to graffiti legends who have left and mark on the art form.

“We don’t see it as vandalism really, our work is cleaning up public spaces that need it.

“We are just trying to create a bit of beauty in places that need it.”

While Tetsuo’s journey was a tale of personal exploration, his collaboration with hy one gave rise to an artistic partnership you can see flourishing across Manchester and Leeds.

Together, they embarked on a mission to transform spaces that often went unnoticed, using their creative synergy to breathe life into disused billboards.

These forgotten billboards became their canvases, showcasing intricate typography and striking designs that defy the conventional perception of urban art.

Hy One and Tetsuo’s 15-year collaboration

Hy one, and Tetsuo have been collaborating for over 15 years, bridging the gap between their bases in Leeds and Manchester.

While Hy One focuses on character-based illustrations and incredible murals, Tetsuo masterfully crafts letter-based graffiti art.

Their chemistry shines through in each unique piece as they marry their distinct styles into visually arresting works of art.

Hy one continued: “These unique pieces pay homage to late graffiti artists and friends, immortalising their legacies on billboards.

Tetsuo’s inspiration draws from diverse sources, but one motif stands out prominently in his work – the influence of the anime film, Akira.

He cites the film as a driving force behind his unique style, one that seeks to blend a sense of the unusual with a touch of familiarity.

But he did admit the red, white and black colour scheme was because he’s a huge United fan.

One of the most intriguing aspects of their work is its engagement with the public sphere.

The billboards they choose aren’t mere backdrops; they become part of the city’s story.

The art invites the public to stop, look, and engage – whether through stopping for a photograph, admiring the intricate details or simply pondering the message behind each piece.

Their work, once confined to the streets, has now found its way into galleries and exhibitions.

A recent showcase at Northlight Arts Centre in Leeds garnered significant attention and admiration from the art community.

The blurb to the event read: “an exhibit of Japanese-themed graffiti art painted and photographed on the streets of both Manchester and Leeds by  duo Tetsuo and Hy One.”

The duo has also published a book chronicling their journey, with only a handful of copies remaining.

Not content to rest on their laurels, Hy one and Tetsuo are continuously seeking new opportunities to expand their artistic horizons.

The artists have ventured into new cities, bringing their signature graffiti style to fresh locations.

A pop-up shop in york is their next destination, showcasing their work in a unique freight container.

While graffiti art often faces negative connotations, hy one and Tetsuo’s approach aims to change that perception.

They view their work as a form of community service, cleaning up dilapidated urban spaces and turning them into eye-catching canvases.

In an era where street art has evolved into a recognised art form, Tetsuo’s and Hy one’s work shows the power of creativity and collaboration and how that can improve city life.

The rapid acceptance and integration of street art into the urban landscape signify a cultural shift that embraces unconventional expressions.

As Tetsuo aptly puts it, “Graffiti isn’t fading away anytime soon; it’s growing stronger and expanding across more cities.”

Their daytime painting approach challenges conventional notions of clandestine graffiti, engaging the public and receiving positive feedback.

By speaking out about their motivations and the impact of their art, they hope to inspire a broader understanding of graffiti as an art form and explore more avenues to support their passion for creating stunning murals.

Through their dynamic collaboration and dedication to preserving graffiti history, Hy One and Tetsuo are leaving an enduring mark on the urban landscape.

Their tribute billboards serve not only as a testament to the artists they honour but also as a testament to the transformative power of art in public spaces.

With each stroke of their spray cans, they challenge stereotypes and spark conversations about the profound influence of graffiti on contemporary culture.

Did we miss something? Let us know: [email protected]

Want to be the first to receive all the latest news stories, what’s on and events from the heart of Manchester? Sign up here.


Manchester is a successful city, but there are many people that suffer. The I Love MCR Foundation helps raise vital funds to help improve the lives and prospects of people and communities across Greater Manchester – and we can’t do it without your help. So please donate or fundraise what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a massively rewarding experience. Thank you in advance!

Got a story worth sharing?

What’s the story? We are all ears when it comes to positive news and inspiring stories. You can send story ideas to [email protected]

Close this search box.