Background Several studies have suggested that the specific stroke subtype may influence the presence of leukoaraiosis in patients with ischemic stroke. We investigated the association between stroke subtype and leukoaraiosis in Korean patients with ischemic stroke by MRI. Methods There were 594 patients included in this study that were classified as large artery disease, lacune and cardioembolic stroke. For large-artery disease, the analysis focused on the intracranial or extracranial location of the stenosis, and the multiplicity of the stenotic lesions. Leukoaraiosis grading was performed according to the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Results There was a significant association between leukoaraiosis and the stroke subtypes; the large-artery-disease group had a higher prevalence of leukoaraiosis than did the other groups (55.4% in the large-artery-disease group, 30.3% in the lacunar group and 14.3% in the cardioembolic group, P = 0.016 by chi-square test). On the multivariate linear regression analysis, age, the presence of hypertension, previous stroke and stroke subtype were independently associated with the presence of leukoaraiosis. In the sub analysis of the large-artery-disease group, the leukoaraiosis had a tendency to be more prevalent in the mixed and intracranial stenosis group than did the extracranial stenosis group (45.5% in the mixed group, 40.3% in the intracranial group and 26.9% in the extracranial group, P = 0.08 by chi-square test). Conclusion The association of leukoaraiosis with large-artery disease in this study might be due to the relatively high prevalence of intracranial occlusive lesions in Korean stroke patients compared to other ethnic groups.