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Alright, alright, hear me out now. I get that The Boxer is a webtoon and not technically a manga, but I'm going to take that little bit of liberty to talk with you all about this story that has had me hooked for years now. I've been heavily invested in The Boxer since around June 2020, and only just recently had its final episode dropped which left me kind of... heartbroken. I was excited for what was still yet to come, of all the what if scenarios that sports stories tend to have and explore, and by no means was ready for it to end after only 120ish chapters. But, if there was any solace to be had, it was that I had enjoyed the years that were built up to that point and of course... that I would be in charge of doing the manga review for the month which it did end up finishing in >:)
As I said previously, The Boxer is a sports based series centered around the sport of boxing. Crazy, right? I'm not necessarily one to seek out sports series - least of all in manga form. I've enjoyed things like Haikyuu, the Prince of Tennis, or Megalobox - but none of those things were ingested in the same way that you would a book. All of this is to say that the writing, art, and action within this story had me hooked from beginning to end. And as the series ended recently and I was able to go back through for a binge read, grab a couple of quotes, and refresh myself on the story as a whole over the course of a few hours, I can say it still holds up for me even after a second or third journey. It's all very consistent from beginning to end, and given that the author has a few other stories already under their belt, the quality of artwork or how the story itself is told doesn't have any massive changes from beginning to end - they know how they wanted it all to go, and saw it through.
Webtoons and manhwas offer a unique experience in comparison to things like traditional manga. For many of these series, we're offered chapters which feature full color. There's much less left to the imagination, and it becomes easier for certain background story elements to portray themselves better. Of course, there's also the option for music to accompany certain chapters - which a lot of times in my experience has come off as a bit lazy, since it feels more like the author is reaching for something else to sell the emotions that they themselves can't convey through writing or artwork. However, for the few chapters that The Boxer does include music with, it is more of a supporting element rather than one that really demands your attention to get the full effect of the chapter in question. The author knew what tools that they had to work with, knew how they wanted to use them, and was able to utilize them tactfully without it being overdone or becoming the driving force for emotion - credit where it is due, as this is something a great number of people and companies even struggle with on various platforms.
Fate leads each person on a predestined path. Just as some are effortlessly chosen for a path of greatness from the moment they're born... others are just as easily cast aside. In this impetuous, irrational, swirling torrent of life and fate... only the will of the courageous shall remain. And they, only they, shall be the ones to march through life with their heads held high.
Random gushing aside, the story of the Boxer revolves around Yu and his journey to 'the top'. Within the story lies a lot of Christian symbolism, and a little more directly features some relevant excerpts from the bible to foreshadow and emphasize various things going on. Every fight in The Boxer has weight. Narratively, just about every single character that appears for more than a single chapter is given their turn in the sun. It's hard to really well and truly hate or dislike any of the characters, and at certain points I found myself rooting for the opponents just as much as I was excited to see what Yu and his coach K would be pulling out against them. There isn't a lot of mystery to the series as there might be with other stories in the genre, but there are things that I - and many others who kept up with it as it was releasing - would wonder as things escalated and K revealed more and more of his true colors...
Where does it end? Is the goal of the series to just throw one 'godlike' fighter into the ring with a number of other hyped up individuals just to appease the cries for violence, action, and bloodshed? Is it K's goal to just lead someone so vulnerable down a path to the point where he ends up dying from such inconceivable odds? Is it the author's desire to see us cry at each and every fight's conclusion for the opponents that come and that go? Yeah, perhaps that last one holds a little more truth. Even with the first couple of major fights, on re-reading I found myself tearing up over the history that each person in the series is given. The author respects the characters that they created for this push to the top, and uses them in various ways to propel that forward as Yu falls deeper and deeper into the all-consuming depression that keeps him from fearing or enjoying any of it.
Even when you think someone doesn't have a reason to appear in the narrative anymore, they manage to stay relevant, which is something that feels really refreshing when so many MMA series just seem to be re-skinned monster of the week type stories. This is not just another shonen-style series in that vein. Yes, some of the fights are over the top, the jargon that goes into the scenes and the way that people talk about themselves and each other can be a bit silly like in Baki the Grappler or other such over-the-top martial arts series... but The Boxer is different. For every guy building himself up as the 'king of the ring' and as having 'muscles that could stop bullets', there's just as many instances of humanizing moments for even the strongest of characters that we're introduced to. The story is centered around the boxing arena, but so much more happens outside of it that is much more important to the progression of the narrative and how the plot itself plays out that it could be any MMA styled series and have the same impact. The people that are shown off to us rather than the action are what really drive this series and plant it firmly at the top of my list for not just webtoons, but manga in general as well.
Maybe now gimmepie will finally give this series a shot ;P