Ep. 95: The Boxer vol. 1 by JH

Wait, is this episode MANHWAsplaining? It’s true! Deb leads the team through their first-ever Korean webtoon pick, JH’s The Boxer from IZE Press / Yen Press. What fascinating differences and similarities will the Mangang discern between this title and the previous 100+ manga they’ve read? And how does a unique vertical-scroll digital story translate to a printed edition? It’s a big ‘splaining episode, listen now!

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The Boxer Volume 1 (Chapters 1-9)
By JH (Jung Ji-Hoon)

Lettered by Adnazeer Macalangcom
Published by Yen Press (Print)
Published by Webtoon (Digital)

Audio editing by David Brothers. Show notes by Christopher Woodrow-Butcher and Deb Aoki


Just as an FYI, Deb and David read the printed edition published by Yen Press’ Ize Press imprint for this podcast, and Chris and Chip read the digital version on Webtoon, and so we refer to chapters, page numbers, and sequences that might not be the same in each (unfortunately). We’ll try to annotate correctly where possible in the show notes. For the record, we only discuss the first 9 chapters of the Webtoon version, which is the whole first volume and the first few pages of volume 2.

Oh, and? The Webtoon app does not allow screenshots. So we can’t (easily) clip images to discuss for this episode. So, uh, fewer graphics than usual. Sorry!

Let’s get into it…

00:45 It’s true! We’re covering a Korean title for the first time! It’s not technically manga, but manga publisher (and Japanese manga publisher Kadokawa’s subsidiary) Yen Press is getting into the WEBTOON business big time.

02:15 How do webtoons work? How do people get paid? The basic version is that it’s the comics reading equivalent of a “freemium” game, where you can theoretically read for free, at a limited pace, or pay for a speed up using in-game currency, and fractions of fractions of cents from that makes its way to the cartoonist.

03:15 It’s true, we’ve mentioned Hajime no Ippo a number of times (more on that later), but JH does pay direct homage to Ippo in some bonus material Deb found.

04:30   Here’s what Yen Press has to say about The Boxer, by JH:

While searching for a final prodigy to train, legendary boxing coach K stumbles across a bewildering scene—an apathetic teenager simply standing still as his bullies throttle him. But Coach K sees more than this, sees the precision, grace, and uncanny perceptiveness in the boy’s movements. He knows right away that this is the fighter he’s been waiting for. Yet when he tries to recruit him, the boy with the lifeless eyes only asks one question: “Is it any fun? Hitting people…Is it fun?””

Yen Press

[DEB:] Incidentally, IZE Press is also releasing an earlier work by JH, The Horizon that shows a different art style. If you enjoy reading The Boxer, perhaps check this out next, and see if you can see how JH’s style has evolved.

[CHRISTOPHER:] Hi, it’s Christopher here. I’m kind of writing the show notes solo this time because I’m so late, and Deb and I are getting ready to travel, again. I can say It’s pretty wild how this first volume has almost nothing to do with the back cover copy. The big spoiler Deb mentions is that the protagonist and antagonist of this volume are NOT the lead character of the series… The real protagonist makes a few small appearances this volume, but doesn’t really “step up” until the end of this book. It’s an interesting take.

[DEB:] Also, as I’m copyediting this week’s episode, a bit of an explanation. Whenever we refer to “webtoons” in a generic sense, as in “vertical-scrolling comics, published on any website/platform/service,” I use the lower case “w” for “webtoons.” When we refer to the specific website/company that publishes a bunch of webtoons (including The Boxer) both digitally as Webtoon Entertainment (a division of S. Korean tech company Naver Corporation), and in print through their Webtoon/Wattpad division, a.k.a. Webtoon Unscrolled, then I go with “Webtoon” with a capital “W.” It’s a little nerdy and nit-picky, but I hope this explanation helps a bit.

[CHRISTOPHER:] Complaining about the pacing for this episode, btw, made me feel a little bit like when I read John Byrne complaining on Usenet about the pacing of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man #1 back in the day, so like… I may be on the wrong of history when it comes to webtoons in general, but I will say: The pacing is a different thing than manga. More on that later.

Also? These two panels from the opening chapter are antithetical to my way of life, so I may have been in a bit of a mood this episode. All Apologies.

7:15 David mentions that sports manga, which are almost exclusively shonen (boys’) action manga with a sport as the setting, is at least a little bit “explainer” manga. We’ve talked a lot about a number of “explainer” manga on the podcast, but essentially, they’re about using the form of manga to explain something complicated in an easier, more visual way, through narrative. It’s not wholly unique to manga of course, going all the way back to Will Eisner’s comics about Jeep Maintenance or whatever during The Korean War, but they are a tremendously popular pan-genre in manga, a storytelling form that crosses genres and audiences easily.

Probably my favorite pure “explainer” manga in English is the Project X: 7-11 Manga published by DMP back in the day. Or maybe the Project X: Cup Noodle one? The art’s better in Cup Noodle. It’s hard to say for sure, they’re both so fantastic, being straight-ahead retellings of the origins of important Japanese brands… Like, maybe I need to pick these for the podcast. It’s too bad they’re so deeply out of print.

12:50: I think that, whatever your format issues with the vertical-scroll of webtoons, the reading and distribution method is pretty garbage, acting like a freemium experience. As Chip says “Reading this way made him feel like a child.” and that’s hard to argue with, it’s ridiculous.

That said, this model, of free-to-paid apps on smartphones, is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s impressive to see comics getting a piece of the pie instead of just like, Candy Crush and Pokémon Go. I dunno, KIDS THESE DAYS.

13:14 Chip mentions that he found Deb’s examples of how the vertical scroll of The Boxer, by JH got turned into print manga to be really interesting.  Here are a few examples comparing the two that Deb sent us before we recorded this episode.

Example 1:

(Click for larger images)

The book version works differently.

Example 2:

(Click for larger images.)

Compressed into one page.

15:00 The Batman webtoon we mention is actually Batman: Wayne Family Adventures, on Webtoon. It’s a sort of lighthearted take on the Batman family of characters. It’s a lot more where I’m at when reading those stories, to be honest. I have no idea how it stacks up in terms of “continuity” but it’s a fun read, and if you’re a superhero reader that wants to give webtoons a try, it’s a pretty safe bet. It reads like those issues of Uncanny X-Men where they’re all playing baseball instead of like, saving a world that hates and fears them.

15:45 Most of the superhero publishers have different sort of “takes” on how to do digital-first comics, which is to say comics that will appear online before they appear and print. Marvel and DC both have done these “half-page” digital comics, which are then stacked on top of one another for the eventual printed collection.

Sometimes the half-page comics work better than other times. Here’s an example scraped from the web, of two “digital pages” in Sensational Wonder Woman #1. Obviously, these pages were not meant to be split in half this way.

Sometimes it works much better, particularly as Chip mentions if the artists are thinking more about how the pages will break up, and working in tiers.

16:07 Meanwhile, Marvel is now experimenting with the continuous vertical-scroll format with their work on Marvel Digital Unlimited. Here’s a look at Ken Niimura’s Peni Parker story from that app and Spider-Verse Unlimited Infinity Comic #7, because we <3 Ken.



22:47 We mention the first flashback where Baeksan figures out he’s very strong, from the last chapter of the book, as being some character development.

[DEB:] It’s fascinating, because in these scenes and in his facial expression as he realizes his strength compared to his classmates, we see who Baeksan was before he became an arrogant bully who uses his ability to torment his classmates. It allows the reader to feel a little compassion for what otherwise would be a very unlikeable character.

23:37 We talk about the improved use of color in Chapter 9, and you can see that in the image above. It’s strong.

David also mentions the work of Meredith McLaren, whose most recent work is Black Cloak from Image Comics.

24:50 Dude wakes up in the hospital! This is well-told sequence, where the middle of the fight sort of cuts away into an inner monologue, and then just… waking up in the hospital.

Yes, I DID resort to taking a picture of my phone screen for these show notes. Thank you for noticing!

25:41 Here’s the vertical-to-horizontal splash page that we discuss… In the vertical scroll version, Coach K is punching downwards, and as you scroll down, you see Yu, the target of the incoming punch, looking pretty non-plussed.

Meanwhile, this same scene is printed as a single panel on one page in the print edition, where it somehow doesn’t have the same visual impact this way as it did on the webtoon/vertical-scroll version.

It’s interesting just how much these images/panels get manipulated between formats.

26:30 We talk about the solid visual effect of being on the top of the mountain, and then realizing that you’re actually just a fleck in the eye of someone so much larger than you that you couldn’t even see them. It’s very good. Here’s the mountain (with the other people beneath him):

…and then here’s (in a later scene in the book), when Baeksan, the king of the hill realizes that he ain’t as big as he thought.

27:07 Christopher references’ Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, the graphic novel, not the recently-released Disney+ television series. It’s an interesting graphic novel in a lot of ways, but the Christian take on Journey to the West is… very interesting. Worth reading for sure.

27:24 Deb mentions the solid visual effect of Baeksan getting punched so hard by Yu it seemingly tears a hole in space.

28:42 Deb brings up another good usage of color in the book, and that’s using incidental detail colors and background colors to differentiate characters. Red, Green, Blue characters, especially with eye color, linking different characters, like this father and son.

30:27 The comic David is mentioning is probably Go Go Loser Ranger! (Aka Sentai Daishikkaku), by Negi Haruba, a send-up of the super sentai genre of television shows and comics, best exemplified by Power Rangers. It’s out now from Kodansha.

32:56 A bit of the explainer manga slips through, as earlier on we get this explanation from Coach K of how a “one-two” punch works, and then later in the book, this character uses this exact same set-up (seen above) to take down his opponent. Has he been practicing? Read on to learn more!

[DEB:] There’s more explainer manga type scenes in later chapters of The Boxer, in particular when a flashy boxer with a ridiculous style of punching comes onto the scene, and JH is keen to explain why this JUST DOES NOT WORK in the ring. In other words, don’t try this at home, kids.

34:30 Montage!

39:55 What Does The Fox Say? No, not the meme-rific song from a decade back, but instead the incredibly sexual lesbian intrigue office drama webtoon, which is on Tappytoon. 


The link is to the all-ages version, SFW as they say, but it’s not too hard to find the NSFW version. And as David mentions, it’s very Skinimax (lol), but set at a Korean video game company office? Anyway, it’s very compelling fluff, and it hit the spot for me (Christopher) better than The Boxer did.

40:48 You probably should google “Tip and Strip Pen” if you want to see what the naked lady pen is. No images here today. 🙂

41:00 Meanwhile, this joke about how slow the Internet used to be is perfect.

43:15 Yeah, we’ve talked a LOT about boxing manga here on the podcast. That’s because of how the podcast came together, while we were on our trip to Tokyo and we saw and discussed the original art exhibition for Hajime No Ippo, by George Morikawa. It’s kind of a shared touchstone for the group of us. Here’s a scene from volume 1 of Hajime no Ippo, when our hero starts off as a timid high school kid, squaring off with a pro boxer who will become one of his mentors at the gym:

But that manga series, as well as the classic Ashita no Joe, which we reference all the time, aren’t available in English yet (fingers crossed!). It’s kind of a weird thing that this Korean webtoon about boxing ended up getting an episode first…? Before all the work that inspired it? That’s life as a manga reader in N. America, I guess.

Anyway, read all about Ashita no Joe here.

44:45 So it looks like Deb’s theory of page layouts and pacing are: French BD can be pretty hard to read, they’re very dense. American comics less so, then most manga have a lot of room to breathe… and webtoons are like a collection of single-page panels.

I’m kind of with Deb on this actually. It’s like a slider that just keeps getting turned down, with the juxtaposition of the images getting less and less… juxtaposed? Physically juxtaposed?

Here’s an anecdote: I’m in Tokyo right now, and I was sitting in line at QB house to get my haircut. The guy next to me, young guy, was scrolling through comics on his phone. Japanese language, but vertical-scroll Korean webtoon style. I didn’t wanna be a creep so I just saw him scrolling out of the corner of my eye, and honestly he was scrolling through chapters SO FAST I don’t know how he was reading it, or if he even was. Every once in a while he’d scroll back up to read something, usually when words were in a free-standing balloon outside of the artwork, and then he’d just keep scroll down to the bottom barely pausing. 

I have no idea what he was reading, the art was pretty mid and it really felt like one-random-panel-at-a-time that wasn’t using the medium very well. But he was going through chapter after chapter. At lighting speed, far quicker than even I can read a manga.

So yeah, I think webtoons are maybe a different medium, connected to comics and manga and BD, but not the same thing. And I think that’s really, really interesting. How far can you push comics before they aren’t comics anymore, as we know them? I think we’re getting close.

46:10 Chip loved this joke that kicked off chapter 10.

47:00 David brings up just how wordy and dense Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing stories are, and he’s not wrong. These are light years away from The Boxer, by JH.

48:30 Yeah, this is an important point: webtoons are designed for reading on mobile phones. North American (and Japanese) digital comics are designed for tablets and large screens. There’s a very, very different level of access implied there.

But that said, the scroll on a webtoon is so narrow and tall that reading on a tablet is just a terrible experience. You can’t even fit a whole panel on the screen at once with the word balloon.

49:00 That article is “Emily in Paris and the rise of Ambient TV.” At the New Yorker. A show you watch while playing with your phone. Chip disagrees, as is his right, but yeah, maybe it’s more like “comics to read while waiting in a line for a haircut?”

Sorry for the paywall: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/emily-in-paris-and-the-rise-of-ambient-tv 

54:04 Hey look, it’s a callback to our X-Men Spectacular, where we discussed Psylocke and The Focused Totality of Her Psychic Powers.

54:50 David mentions the Shonen Jump series Kuroko’s Basketball, by Tadatoshi Fujimaki, the “Anti Slam Dunk.” You can check it out on the Jump app.

58:30 We discuss titles Witch Hat Atelier and Vinland Saga, both of which we discussed on previous episodes of Mangasplaining!

59:49 Finally, Deb recommends the… explainer…webtoon Viral Hit, which has a bullied kid learning how to do martial arts via a chicken-mask wearing dude on YouTube. Sounds like a cross between The Boxer, by JH, and our episode on the MMA manga All-Rounder Meguru by Hiroki Endo. Maybe we’ll cover it on a future episode of Mangasplaining…? WHO CAN SAY?

1:01:03 THE BREAK

01:00:30 SHOUT OUTS

So CHIP read the novel Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray, who is a good dude who also just happens to be married to our friend Kate Beaton. This novel just won an award too! Here’s how the publisher describes it:

In late 2007, as the world’s economy crumbles and Barack Obama ascends to the White House, the remarkably unremarkable Milton Ontario – not to be confused with Milton, Ontario – leaves his parents’ basement in Middle-of-Nowhere, Saskatchewan, and sets forth to find fame, fortune, and love in the Euro-lite electric sexuality of Montreal; to bask in the endless twenty-something Millennial adolescence of the Plateau; to escape the infinite flatness of Saskatchewan and find his messiah: Leonard Cohen.

Hilariously ironic and irreverent, in Dirty Birds, Morgan Murray generates a quest novel for the twenty-first century—a coming-of-age, rom-com, crime-farce thriller—where a hero’s greatest foe is his own crippling mediocrity as he seeks purpose in art, money, power, crime, and sleeping in all day.

DAVID shouts out the film Creed III, and talks a little bit about the anime influence on the film.

CHRISTOPHER went to the Taiwanese premiere of the movie AIR starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. It’s a pretty good movie, well told.

Also: Violent Femmes can be enjoyed by anyone, I just want to go on record. But the soundtrack has a lot of white artists and that wasn’t what I was expecting when I walked in… Like, Dire Straits, Night Ranger, The Boss, Cyndi Lauper, all solid picks but Unexpected. Here’s a playlist:

Meanwhile, my actual favorite Webtoon is My Giant Nerd Boyfriend by Fishball. It’s a slice of life comic strip and it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of heart, great cartooning. Reminds me a bit of Kate Beaton’s work. 

Oh dang, there’s an animated version now.

DEB recommends the Korean television series Boys Planet, a survival / reality show about a bunch of guys, some newbies, some pros from other pop groups, some from Korea and some from parts elsewhere (including China, Japan, Canada and Thailand), trying to create a new K-Pop super group. It’s airing on VIKI now. And even though the live voting participating part of it is… well, it’s too late for you, the viewer to affect the outcome of this show, it’s still full o’ drama. And boys who get pretty emotionally invested in the idea of being idols.

Deb mentions that there’s a bit of an age gap between her and the Boys Planet boyz, which reminds Christopher of Cody Ko’s watching Milf Manor.

This is a whole series.

The mere mention of MILF Manor basically crashed Chip’s computer. Not joking. And that’s how the episode ended.

And that’s this week in Mangasplaining! This episode is also available wherever you get your podcasts, so please subscribe and leave a review, so others can discover our show. 

Also, if you’d like to get the latest episode delivered straight to your inbox along with exclusive interviews, articles and new chapters of manga you can’t read anywhere else, subscribe to our Substack newsletter. See what you’re missing at Mangasplaining Extra!

Next week on Mangasplaining: Get ready for a special interview episode with Abby Denson and Matt Loux!

Thanks so much for listening! Please support your local comic and manga specialty shop when purchasing these books, and you can find one near you at comicshoplocator.com. You can also check your local library for print and digital lending options, they have TONS of manga! Finally, thanks to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment for this episode.

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9 Responses

  1. James says:

    I loath the webtoon format. It just obliterates so much of what I love about comics as a medium and mostly works as a content firehose.

    • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

      100% I recognize that there is some quality work being done there, but the format just kills it for me and even when they transfer it to print it just comes off as awkward.

    • Ian Zeilstra says:

      I’ve read The Boxer in its entirety. As far as I can remember I didn’t have to pay or wait to access chapters at the time I was reading it on the Webtoon desktop site – either the monetization status has since changed, or it’s different on the app.

      With respect to layout, vertical-scrolling webtoons are definitely distinct from page by page comics, though they share a fair bit of visual vocabulary. The best of them use their unbounded vertical dimension and the tempo of scrolling as a pacing tool to add dramatic weight. Scott McCloud was an early cheerleader for the expressive potential of an infinite virtual canvas; I think webtoons have realized at least some of that potential.

      As regards The Boxer’s place among boxing manga in particular and sports manga in general, I would say that it isn’t particularly interested in the details of boxing as a sport, nor is it focused on the competitors as specific individuals. Rather, it uses the action of combat sport and the archetypes of competitor as a way to explore larger questions about the origin and meaning of strength, in a way that reminded me more of explicitly allegorical stories than anything grounded in realism. In short, it’s not really about boxing. At least that was the impression I was left with, though it took reading a fair way into the story to come to that conclusion.

      Anyway, thanks for another interesting episode.

      • Ian Zeilstra says:

        It looks like I accidentally made this comment a reply to another, unrelated comment. That was a mistake on my part and I apologize for any confusion.

  2. Matthew Murray says:

    I read the first volume of Solo Leveling in print last year and I really have to agree with Christopher. While individual panels may look nice, overall I thought it was a terrible looking comic with some of the worst storytelling I’ve seen, mostly down to the fact that it wasn’t designed for that format. I don’t have a tablet and reading comics on my phone is of no interest to me, so if I do read a vertical scroll comic it’s either reading in print or in a browser on my laptop, neither of which has worked well for me.

  3. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    Fascinating discussion. I admit, on the shojo discord I belong to, webtoons get brought up more and more (especially BL ones) and I’ve checked them out, but something always holds me back. I guess it was obvious, but this episode made me realize it–it’s that I miss one of my favourite things about manga, just how powerful the use of page layout/panelling can be (particularly, for me personally, the really montage heavy, “where are the panel borders” vintage shojo look. I find it adds emotion (as well as just visual interest) to my reading that more flat panel layouts can’t do. (I don’t have a huge background of reading NAmerican comics, especially the big ones, but I have been a fan of Moore’s Swamp Thing for a long time now, and it really is true that that experience feels to me more like reading a wonderfully illustrated novel–with the exception of some very visually inventive parts–than the experience I get from my fave mangaka.)

    The reading experience of webtoons just can not capture that. Add to that, that I’d still rather read comics/manga in print than on screens, and I guess it’s just not for me. That said, I did really get into Coffin Jackson by CTK who is more known for pretty explicit BL stuff (Coffin Jackson is, obviously homoerotic but not full on BL, just dark dark.)

    Also, I’d like to shout out to a new webtoon I’ve been following by gay cartoonist Tim Fish. Back in the early 2000s he released as “floppies” and then later in GN format, Calvacade of Boys, a gay romance comic serial (along with many spin offs) that I loved, he also edited the online comic (pre Webtoon format) anthology Young Bottoms in Love (the print copy is one of my prize comics) and with Greg Lockhard did the Comixology Original gay historical Weimer Berlin comic Liebestrasse (since picked up by Dark Horse.) He current is running, three times a week, the semi autobiographical, coming out in the 1990s (wonder why I like it?!) webtoon Please Say It! which is damn charming and deserves more readers. https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/please-say-it/list?title_no=804969

    Oh… And as a big Ashita no Joe nerd (whenever I hear about a boxing manga or anime getting released, my gut reaction is “But where’s Joe?”) I think it’s worth pointing out that you CAN watch the anime with English subtitles legally, but with an annoying catch. The anime, which put my fave TV anime director Osamu Dezaki on the map and I think is phenomenal, has been released to disc by Discotek, both series 1 and series 2 from ten years later. Except… annooyingly they only released the compilation films and cutting 70+ episodes into 2 hours is never a good idea (it must be a licensing thing as Discotek have released other long, relatively more obscure, anime series, but I supported the releases anyway in hopes it could lead to the real deal.)

    And I can’t believe that since listening to this podcast I’ve actually watched three summary videos of three episodes of MILK Island (and for good measure that led me to summary videos of UK gay reality show I Kissed a Boy.) Sigh, thanks Christopher. But it doesn’t count as actually watching this crap, does it, if I’m watching a video where someone summarizes the show and makes me feel smart for choosing to watch that rather than the actual show itself?? Phew.

  4. Bobbi says:

    I think the Coach would have loved Johann and the work done at Kinderheim 511. The boxer shares a similar idea to Monster just done done in a sports genre.

    It was a fun read. I would recommend from webtoon “Daily JoJo” a romance webtoon with an interesting structure in how it narrates its story with it’s mini arcs.


    Not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting all comments to this be so reactionary to the point that nobody talks about the comic in question, but just complain how they hate webtoons. But given how condescending the tone is set with Chris denying this any artistic merit and insisting is just a cash cow, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    I’m not super into webtoons. But I downloaded the app and read this when Deb first shouted it out way back. And this is incredible. It’s elegant, thoughtful, inventive and keeps reinventing itself up until the very end. The cliches at the start are more obviously a setup to subvert your expectations as you read along.

    Shed your weird conservative paradigms off and give it a chance on its own terms. Don’t get confused, this is comics, and good comics at that. MIND YOU, this is feel-bad comics. I say this in case you’re thinking this is just sports comics. It feels like the bouncing off is happening because at face value this isn’t what you want it to be. Stop assuming you know what this is and just let it be what it is.

  1. June 23, 2023

    […] The Mangang dedicate their latest show to JH’s The Boxer, a Korean drama about a boxing prodigy. [Mangasplaining] […]

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