The Rise of Art Toys: How These Collectibles Become Phenomena

How art toys evolved into mainstream culture, led by POP MART's innovative blind box concept.

“Buying happiness is not equal to buying excitement.”

Wang Ning, CEO of Pop Mart, once stated, Art Toys are not dolls for little children, but collector’s items. They are suitable for teenagers to working people and the company’s famous blind box sales stem from the idea of this excitement.


His brand now operates over 450 stores across more than 30 countries.

Looking Back at the Origins of Art Toys

Art toys, often known as designer toys, originated in the 1990s in Hong Kong. Created by artists, these toys are usually produced in limited quantities, which drives up their prices. As they gained popularity, production expanded to America, and to Japan with Bearbrick, invented by Tatsuhiko Akashi, which incorporated pop culture elements in its bear designs. 

The appeal of art toys grew, attracting both collectors and a diverse group of artists and small toy manufacturers who saw these items as a form of art. Events and gatherings began to occur, bringing together independent artists, collectors, and both small and major manufacturers.

However, the evolution of art toys into a more mainstream product was largely by the emergence of POP MART, a Chinese retail company. Originally selling various pop culture items for Chinese teenagers, POP MART shifted its focus exclusively to toys, collectibles, and art toys.

Here Comes the Turning Point

They introduced the concept of "blind boxes," which sold at an affordable price and were marketed through both physical stores and vending machines. Blind Box refers to the type of packaging that keeps the collectible toy as a mystery until it is opened. Blind boxes typically come in series that show a collection; some figurines are rarer to find than others, these are referred to as "secret", "hidden", or "chase" figures. This approach increased the popularity of art toys.

Thailand Craze

In Thailand, the demand for art toys eventually surpassed supply, leading to a resale market where popular items were pre-ordered at inflated prices. This trend also inspired Thai artists to create art toys that reflected Thai culture.


The popularity of Art Toys over the past year is likely due to the opening of the first POP MART branch at Central World in September 2023. Eager shoppers have been lining up to enter the store, and at times, the competition for places in the queue has escalated into minor chaos.

A second branch opened in November at Terminal 21 Asoke, followed by a pop-up shop at Siam Center in December. Subsequently, a third POP MART branch was inaugurated at Central Ladprao in February, with a fourth opening in Fashion Island. Additionally, a robo shop has been established at Central Westgate.


The designer toy industry has matured over the last two decades, especially in China, where it has shattered the notion that "toys are for kids." These toys combine various artistic concepts including design, fashion, and sculpture, and are now seen as trendy pop culture collectibles.


Here are some of the popular Art Toys in the market.


Designer: Kenny Wong (Hong Kong, China)

Molly, a figurine designed by Kenny Wong in 2006, features emerald eyes, pouting lips, and a spirited demeanour. Inspired by a young child, Molly debuted as a tiny artist, complete with a beret, apron, palette, and brush. Her mix of stubbornness, charm, intelligence, and fun has endeared her to fans, making her a beloved pop culture icon.


Wong, a Hong Kong artist and toy designer, partnered with POP MART in 2016, catapulting Molly to fame among the younger generation. She is now one of the most popular art toy characters, and Kenny has also become one of the most popular artists in the art toy scene.


Designer: Ayan (China)

Dimoo is a timid boy with big eyes, often overwhelmed by fear and confusion in real life. However, in his dreams, he becomes adventurous, exploring new worlds and making friends. There he meets Mother Cloud, who gives him Baby Cloud as a companion. Baby Cloud changes shape according to Dimoo's emotions, constantly guarding and accompanying him.

Ayan, a graduate of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, co-founded MOUNTAIN STUDIO and manages YANSTUDIO. She spent two years developing the Dimoo World series, using her creations to express her emotions. The series, rich in fantasy, follows Dimoo's journeys in his dream world.


Designer: Xiongmao (China)

SKULLPANDA is a unique entity that acts as a universal symbiont, travelling across planets and experiencing various lives and roles. Its presence is marked by an overwhelming openness and it exists in a realm of dark, endless space.

Created in 2018 by Xiongmao, a concept and art toy designer and the Director of NORTH STUDIO, SKULLPANDA quickly became iconic, influencing cosplay trends with its distinctive style. In 2020, after joining POP MART, the release of the SKULLPANDA Ancient Castle blind box series saw a record-breaking sale of 60,000 pieces in just one second.


Designer: Mod-Nisa Srikumdee (Thailand)

Crybaby, an art toy character known for its teary-eyed, short-haired girl depiction, has become a sensation across Asia. Created by 'Crybaby Molly' or Mod-Nisa Srikumdee, she is the first Thai artist to collaborate with POP MART, sparking widespread enthusiasm whether in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan or China. Mod has always been inclined towards art, often drawing tearful characters since her university days. Originally a graphic designer, she decided to pursue her passion for art more fully during some free time, leading to the creation of Crybaby. For her, art is a deep love and an inseparable part of her life.

The Monsters

Designer: Kasing Lung (the Netherlands)

In 2015, Kasing Lung brought to life a magical universe in his trio of Nordic Fairy Tale picture books, featuring a mix of good and evil creatures called The Monsters, which includes characters Zimomo, Tycoco, Spooky, and Pato. The standout among them is Labubu, a small monster known for his pointed ears and serrated teeth. Despite his mischievous look, Labubu is actually very kind-hearted, often trying to help others even when his actions inadvertently lead to mishaps.

Originally from Hong Kong and raised in the Netherlands, Kasing now resides in Belgium. He is the first Chinese recipient of the Illustration Award in Belgium and has over a decade of experience in illustration, marked by a distinctive Nordic Fairy Tale style. Transitioning from illustration to toy design in 2010, he collaborated with How2work to launch an art toy series. In 2019, POP MART began an exclusive licensing agreement with Kasing, and their first series release broke the sales record in the art toy category.