Saturday Webcomic: For Gaia's wizarding students, the real adventure begins after graduation

Ilias Oter is a student at the Academy for Arcane Studies and Material Arts of Cania, but he's no Harry Potter. He's a fighter training with some of the best adventurers and wizards of Cania, and he's desperately in love with Lilith, a preternaturally talented sorceress who already has a sword-wielding boyfriend. And it's not until final exams are over and the real world intrudes violently into his graduation that Ilias and his friends realize how dangerous the outside world is, and their grades and petty love affairs are nothing compared to the war that's on its way.

Oliver Knörzer and Powree's (of Sandra and Woo fame) fantasy webcomic Gaia opens as Ilias and his classmates are preparing for their final exams, the tests that prove they have the mettle to succeed in a world of battle and magic. By far the top student in the class is Lilith, a sweet and beautiful girl who understands the magic that runs through their planet with greater depth and intuition than even the greatest wizards. Ilias has long been in love with Lilith, but she is dating Sandril, the son of a wealthy nobleman. Although the students are nervous about their exams and absorbed in their friendships and rivalries, they're also intensely excited. Once they graduate, they'll move on to exciting and potentially lucrative jobs.

But on the night they complete their exams, everything changes. A moment of violence leaves the Academy broken and Lilith swept up in a dangerous political conspiracy. Robbed of many of their mentors and afraid of losing Lilith, Ilias and his friends turn to a questionable source of help.

From its very first pages, Gaia is a lively comic, both in its art and its characterizations. The characters are immediately warm and likable, even when they're engaged in a semi-serious swordfight. In these early chapters of what appears to be a much longer, deeper story, her newbie adventurers are clearly outmatched by political powers they have only partially identified. This leads them to make impulsive decisions and trust characters they may not have clear reasons to trust. But Knörzer and Powree have built relationships that make these decisions believable, and characters who are enjoyable to spend time with, even if we can't always trust their motives. And, while we aren't kicking up our feet at Hogwarts, they've hinted that Gaia will be a powerful coming of age story, one that will follow these characters from their relatively carefree school days into a war that will force them to grow up. Perhaps Gaia is more a fantasy story for the post-graduate set, those people who spent their time at school dreaming of the vocations they'd have once they graduated, only to find the world darker and more complicated than they imagined. Gaia's graduates already come with some powerful magical and martial skills; now they just need to grow up.

[Gaia]