You’ve got talent. Or you’re the underdog. But do you have the heart?
In 2020, a manhwa, or Korean comic, dropped that appeared to change the landscape of the Webtoon app: The Boxer, by JH. In a world of Romance, Comedy, and Fantasy, a Sports series rose up to become one of the most popular stories on Webtoon – one of only two to pass 9 Million likes at this moment in time. It started with a bang, and towards the middle of its run, it was not unusual to see queries online; what other stories are like The Boxer? What other stories or webtoons have boxing?
However, as time went on, The Boxer lost some of its steam. It was still a frontrunner on Webtoon, but stories remain of people who dropped the series, stating that there was not enough action. That the story was slow. That the main character was unclear.
But now, the main story is done. And I want to ask, how does it hold up, really?
The Boxer tells the story of a young prodigy, Yu, ripping through the ranks of the boxing world with relentless violence. Along the way, we come to hear and understand the stories of other boxers – from opponents, to coaches, to even friends. Through it all, the question is continually asked; what is the point of victory? Is there a point to the violence, a point to the search for victory?
Or is the only point to dominate others beneath your heel?
The thing about the Boxer’s story that must be addressed in a review, is that it starts out as many stories do: with a young, talented individual being fostered, in a situation where they must overcome many opponents, many personal demons, to reach the top. It’s a tried-and-true formula, one that is seen in Western and Eastern media alike; think Rocky, think Karate Kid, think Dragonball Z, or really, even most Shonen anime.
However…that is not The Boxer. Not at all. And it may throw you off if you don’t expect it.
The Boxer takes about 50-60 chapters to reveal its true colors in earnest, and if you were expecting an action-packed slugger about overcoming adversity, The Boxer is most certainly not it.
What it IS, however, is a sincerely told story that strives to cause a certain amount of reflection; on life, on what drives people, and what it means to want to live. It delves into places that you might not expect from a manhwa centered around boxing, as it focuses far more on not just the story of Yu’s fights, but the stories of up-and-comer Jay, of the Fabrizio brothers, of Coach K, of world champion Aaron, and many, many more.
It’s a story about people. And, although it can come off as a little forced sometimes (even breaking the fourth wall at points), it’s well put-together, and well-paced, with a conclusion that brings everything together in a beautiful fashion.
Just be ready for anything, because this story goes through a LOT; from the lighthearted and truly comedic, to the depths of darkness.
If you couldn’t tell from the description on story, one of the major strengths of The Boxer is its focus on different characters.
In many ways, The Boxer does share overlap with sports anime or manga, in that each character has a particular arc that can be noticed. When the young upstart, Jay, fights, there is an arc that focuses on Jay. When Yu fights the hard worker, Yuto Takeda, there is an arc that focuses on Yuto. So on and so forth.
I must also note the main character, Yu. While I will not spoil the story, I will say that there have been many people who look at this character and note that he is overpowered, or uninteresting – which, in some regard, has merit, as his character is certainly designed in such a way. However, what I will say is that this is absolutely an intentional decision by the author – that Yu, just as every character in The Boxer, absolutely has a reason for being depicted the way he is.
This brings me to a point, that must be mentioned with a particular understanding; that the characters are very much entwined by the story the author, JH, wants to tell. A common criticism that has been heard is that many of the characters could be stars of their own stories, and are simply not given the chance to shine. Even within the first third of The Boxer, the story itself acknowledges the ambiguity of the protagonist, and takes time to truly define its own trajectory in this regard. It DOES have reason when considering its overall narrative structure, but for some, they may not desire that kind of story.
All things said and done, I do think the characters are utilized very well, and are standout parts of The Boxer; even if the particular way in which they are used is not in line with most traditional stories.
Regarding The Boxer’s art and overall style, there is a little bit of a conundrum to consider.
Oftentimes, when reading a manga, comic, or manhwa, there comes a moment, especially when considering the artistic style, that we realize how good the art will be. The truly exceptional moments stand out; and this is the case even for a film, television show, or cartoon. The light shines in that particular way, the color palette pops, and that particular scene is depicted with such detail that your jaw is left on the floor.
The Boxer does this…in an odd way.
Regarding his art, what I must note is that JH has a very, very distinct style. Mind you, I’m no artist, and with what I know, it’s not a bad style at all – but it can get…repetitive. You’ll note the same shots from the back from different angles. The angles of the faces aren’t terribly dynamic or revolutionary. You won’t have that same “pop”, that same detail, that drops your jaw that other Webtoons, anime, or manga have.
…Okay, maybe you will, from time to time. Some of the action scenes in particular are extremely impressive.
What The Boxer does not just well, but EXCEPTIONALLY, however, is its framing and positioning, allowing you to understand EXACTLY what JH wants you to feel.
I don’t know what particular terms I could use to describe what JH does. In using casual language, I would say JH is a phenom in the art of visual metaphor, using size, positioning, and unique imagery in order to depict what is happening in a very particular fashion, and to get across the messages he wants to get across.
It’s very interesting, and makes for very engaging reading. I can say with some certainty that there are some other artists with more explicit talent than JH in regards to detailing and cleanness of the drawing, but I haven’t often seen an artist who can convey feelings and messages in so consistent a way, and honestly, I personally think that such a talent can go much farther than simply good technical art.
Of course, I’m no artist. Take that as you will!
This is where The Boxer truly shines, and what gets people loving it. The art may be great on its own merit, the characters, as amazing as I feel they are, may be depicted in ways that some people have issue with, and the story itself might not be to some people’s tastes, but the consistency with which JH structures his story, with which he crafts messages for the reader, with which he conveys particular feelings…
To be honest, on Webtoon, it’s unparalleled.
The consistency of the themes of the story is what gets the reader to understand what JH is aiming to accomplish. So clearly, with its use of imagery, with its placement of particular story elements, The Boxer conveys a variety of messages; from the value and worth of perseverance, the extent to which depravity exists in the world, the feeling of being overwhelmed in the midst of tragedy…
Out of everything in The Boxer, I think its consistency as a story from beginning to end is what I’d argue is its largest objective strength. Some of those themes may not be to some people’s liking, being, to some extent, steeped in religious and philosophical imagery, but I don’t think it can be argued that such themes were conveyed exceptionally well.
5. Personal Enjoyment
Now, I have to state a little bit of my bias here; I enjoy this Webtoon a LOT, and I’m not alone in this opinion; but it is a story that can be a bit divisive in this regard.
As someone who is hoping to tell stories of his own someday, I personally admire the way in which The Boxer puts together its own messages, and I think, for people who appreciate the intent of the author, there is a lot to see here.
That said, there are a lot of themes and characters here that speak to particular issues, and explicitly explores topics that some might not care for. Hence, for some people, The Boxer is a masterpiece; for others, it’s a tad overrated, unable to reach the heights of other Webtoons that do other things better.
However, for myself, I enjoyed it. It encouraged me, and provided a hopeful look at a world that can undoubtedly be terribly dark – and with everything there is to worry about in the world nowadays, I think I needed that.
Personal Enjoyment: 9.75/10
The Boxer by JH is a powerful work, capable of touching people to their core. It is certainly not for everyone, but I think that even from a technical level, it is a very interesting work to consider.
What I will end with is this: The Boxer received an award in Korea recently, the “Today’s Our Manhwa” Award, being argued to be a very important work, one that has broken the boundaries of sports manhwa, and manhwa as a whole, with its action, and its message. It’s not a story just about boxing; it’s a story about life.
Suffice to say, I think I can understand why this story has been lauded with such an award; and personally, I’m willing to regard it among the best of the best.
Final Score: 9.1/10
- You are feeling in the mood for a philosophically/theologically minded action series.
- You like getting to see the perspectives of different characters.
- You like or appreciate boxing – but want a stronger story to be told beyond the action.
- You are fine with (or would appreciate) religious imagery/messages.
If you read through this review, or have any other thoughts on The Boxer yourself, please, leave a comment, like the post! Heck, if you have any recommendations for other Webtoons, let me know – I’m always on the lookout for a new story to invest into!