It looks to me that the new set, Core Lights I, is intended to be a multi-purpose set ideal for someone looking for their first lightset. However, I don’t own it (yet) and I can tell you from experience that you can’t go wrong with Lantios Lights 2 as far as quality is concerned. It may not be quite as versatile, though. So in my opinion, either one would be a good choice.
You’re correct…the second render of mine is the one without postwork. Not too surprised that you prefer it, as postwork isn’t exactly my forte. Just to clarify, the postworked version was based on a different render, though. Glad you enjoyed them.
As far as I know, Lantios is really 18 and he’s been a PA since he was 16 I think!
Edited to add: the hair used in my Lantios renders is AprilYSH’s amazing Gia Hair, currently on sale!