i want to train to primarily improve my body composition and look good(pretty vain motivation but hopefully you get my point haha). im not intrested in sports performance or getting really strong. im not intrested in getting huge or being able to kick some-one's ass. what is the best combination of lifting,cardio, and nutrition to achieve my goals?
You'll find that the methods that make your body strong and able to kick ass are the same ones that make you look good. Nature does not act without aim or purpose.
Drink tons of water
Keeping a food and water log
Keeping a workout journal
Lifting as little as possible while still achiving gains
You will probaly be better off gaining the muscle you want first then reducing your calories (and/or adding cardio) while maintaining your muscle. In both cases you will achive better results from eating clean.
These are really the most important things.
Also sleeping and recovering enough and not making excuses. Right down every day what you ate, how many caloriea.
When things don't work change them but only slightly.
I don't know of any cookie cutter method of calorie reccomendation that actually works, just use common sense. Start with every meal at a certain number of calories, if you fail to gain muscle, increase the calories per meal. When you gain enough muscle, reduce the calories and/or add cardio. Keeping a diet journal will help you make sense of what works for you.
For training the body:
legs: squats, then if needed lunges and leg press, etc.
hamstrings: good mornings, lower back extensions, GHR's, maybe hamstring curls
back: rows and chins
arms: curls, extensions, dips
abs: knee raises, etc.
calves: calf raises
shoulders: shoulder press, upright rows, if needed raises
forearms: towel chins, farmer's walks if needed reverse curls and wrist flexion, extension
Start with the basics for a few sets, keep your workouts brief, leave the gym feeling fresh, eat a big meal of carbs and protein after leaving the gym. Specialize on things by training them twice a week (or more), maintain things by training them once a week (or more).
Rotate your rep ranges frequently: one week do squats for sets of 3, next week for sets of 5 or 8, don't feel compelled to kill yourself every set. 3 easy sets of 5 can set you you up to lift a lot more during your next workout. When you feel burned out take a workout (or multiple workouts) easy, lifting for less reps, sets and lighter and make sure that you were eating enough calories to recover.
The BIG THREE: squat, deadlift, and bench pressing. Training those three get you strong.... and muscular. Kettlebells and strongman training burn up a LOT of calories and put on lots of muscle and should accomodate your goal of looking good quite nicely.