Categorizing the large numbers of Korean painting styles could be a daunting task and would require a work of greater scope than this article, but in general, Korean paintings can be broken down into the following, periods or categories.

Paintings from the three kingdoms period include the energetic style of the Koguryo, the elegant paintings of Paekche, and the fanciful lines of the the Shilla works. A great number of the paintings during the Koryo period were of the religious variety due to the powerful influence of Buddhism at that time. Also, during this period, the idea of paintings based on actual scenery or scenes rather than stylized ideas began to increase in popularity.

The paintings of the Chosun era offer the richest variety and are the styles most imitated today. While some of these types of paintings did exist in the earlier three kingdoms, and Koryo periods, it was during the Chosun period that they came into their own. The paintings of the Chosun period can be broken down into five categories: landscape paintings, genre, Minhwa, the Four Gracious Plants, and portraits.

 
Often called the realistic landscape school, the practice of painting landscapes based on actual scenes became more popular during the mid-Chosun period. During this time, many painters traveled the countryside in search of beautiful scenery to paint.
 
At the same time as the interest in realistic landscapes surged, so did the practice of painting the realistic scenes of ordinary people doing ordinary things. Genre painting, as this has come to be called, is the most uniquely Korean of all the painting styles and gives us a historic look into the daily lives of the people of the Chosun period. Some of the most notable of the genre painters were Kim Hong-do (1745-1818?) who left a large collection of paintings portraying many different scenes from Korea's past in vivid colors (see some of his paintings here). Another of the great genre painters was Shin Yun-bok (1758-?), who's paintings of often risque scenes were both romantic and sensual (see some of his paintings here).
 
Minhwa, or folk paintings are by far the most interesting of the traditional Korean paintings. The characteristics of Minhwa paintings are that they were all painted by unknown artists, and all were painted near the end of, or after the Chosun period. Though many of them appear rather childish, and unrefined, quite a number display great painting skill. Under the Minhwa category of paintings are many sub-categories. In brief they are:

Landscape Paintings - Some of the most common of the Minhwa genre, Minhwa landscape paintings can follow any of the traditional styles from the earlier periods.

Magpies and Tigers - One of the most popular themes next to landscapes, the tigers are usually depicted in a comical manner and are shown with a magpie squawking at them from a tree - the magpie is considered a carrier of good news.

Flowers and Birds - Paintings with flowers are usually quite colorful while those that depict animals generally show animals in pairs with the Sun, or Moon. These motifs can be seen on some modern celadon, lacquered boxes, and music boxes as well.

Peonies - The peony symbolizes wealth, honors and high social position and is used extensively in Minhwa paintings as well as in celadon.

Lotus Flowers - Though it originally represented the Sun and the mercy of Buddha, in Minhwa paintings it has come to represent high government officials.

The Ten Longevity Symbols - The symbols are the Sun, clouds, mountains, rocks, water, cranes, deer, turtles, pine trees, and mushrooms. These symbols can be found in many Minhwa paintings and also on modern lacquered boxes and celadon designs.

Dragons - The dragon can represent a variety of meanings including repelling evil spirits and bringing rain.

Paintings of Tiger Hide - As the cost of real tiger hides was prohibitive, paintings that resembled tiger skin were used to provoke the tigers' power as a guardian.

Fish and Crabs - Usually appear in pairs kissing or otherwise being amorous.

Manchurian Hunting Scenes - Used as a sign of bravery these paintings often decorated military quarters.

One Hundred Children - Representing the 100 children from heaven they reflect a wish for many, healthy descendants.

Paintings of the Life Cycle - Used primarily to depict the life of a scholar-official.

Bookcases and Scholars' Rooms - Similar to a Western still-life, these paintings showed the accoutrements of a scholar.

Shamanistic Deities - These paintings usually showed shamanistic rites or deities.

 
The Four Gracious Plants, alternately called the Four Gentlemanly Plants, or the Four Seasons (paintings), consist of plum blossoms, orchids or wild orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo. Though they originally represented characteristics, they are now commonly associated with the four seasons. The Four Gracious Plants originally were Confucian symbols for the four qualities of a learned man. The plum blossoms represented courage, the orchid stood for refinement, the chrysanthemum was a sign of a productive, and fruitful life, and bamboo represented integrity. In modern times, the four have come to be associated with the seasons as well; plums blossoms bravely bloom in the cold of an early spring, orchids disseminate a dim fragrance far in the heat of summer, chrysanthemums overcome the first cold of a late fall and bloom, and bamboo bares its green leaves even in the winter.
 
Portraits were painted throughout Korean history but were produced in greater numbers during the Chosun period. The main subjects of the portraits were kings, meritorious subjects, elderly officials, literati or aristocrats, women, and Buddhist monks.