A List of the Best Saltwater Fish for Beginners, From Popular Community Fish to Unique Tropical Fish

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Saltwater aquariums are one of the most unique, beautiful, and engaging objects to have in your home.

The bright colors of the fish, the corals, the plants – they’re so captivating and entrancing that they draw us to them.

They can help reduce stress, improve the mood, and so much more. Plus, they’re just fun!

But if you’ve not kept one before, it can be a little tricky knowing what kind of fish you should stock in your brand-new marine aquarium or reef tank.

The best reef aquarium fishes and best saltwater fish for beginners may well be one in the same, but they definitely might not. Some fish are harder to care for than others – it’s just a fact.

So, to make your task of choosing the coolest saltwater fish that anyone should be able to care easier, I’ve compiled this list of saltwater aquarium fish along with their basic info and stats for your convenience.

The Most Popular Species

Some of the most popular, easy-to-care for saltwater and reef tank fishes are also some of the brightest colored, most playful species – which is, of course, a large part of why they’re so popular.

#1. Yellow Tangs

yellow tang saltwater fish
Other namesYellow Surgeonfish, Yellow Hawaiian Tang
Minimum tank size55 gallons
Maximum size8-inches

Probably one of the most well-known and therefore common saltwater aquarium fish folks keep is the Yellow Tang.

These beautiful, brightly colored yellow fish have quirky little faces and quirkier personalities.

They’re fairly easy to find at stores, reasonably prices, and easy to care for, generally speaking. They can be aggressive, though, so they must be house properly with fish and other critters they won’t go after.

They’re also not great for coral tanks as they tend to go after coral polyps a bit. They can be stocked with many other fish, but not with other tangs or Surgeonfish, unless they are introduced to the aquarium at the same time.

Despite being a bit aggressive, these beautiful fish are actually herbivores, so they love noshing on algae and other plants. You can find some tasty seaweed wafers, plant-based foods, and other foods they’ll love pretty easily, and even toss in some Nori for a treat now and then.

Where to Purchase Yellow Tangs Online

You can find Yellow Tangs just about anywhere that saltwater fish are sold, including on Live Aquaria, Petco, and Saltwater Fish.

#2. Coral Beauty Angelfish

coral beauty angel fish
Other namesTwospined or Dusky Angelfish
Minimum tank size70 gallons
Maximum size4-inches
ColoringBlue, Orange, Yellow

Common to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, this absolutely gorgeous, vividly colored Angelfish are the other easiest saltwater aquarium fish in the Angelfish category. They’re semi-aggressive, though, so matching them with tankmates requires more caution than some of the other species on our list.

The Coral Beauty makes for one of the best marine aquarium fishes – not reef tanks, though, as they nip and eat corals – because they’re gorgeous but easy to care for. They’re not fussy in their diet – which consists mostly of spirulina, other marine algae, frozen shrimp, and other meaty prepared fish foods and frozen foods.

Where to Purchase Coral Beauty Angelfish Online

You’ll find Coral Beauties online at stores like Live Aquaria, Saltwater Fish, and Vivid Aquariums.

#3. Ocellaris Clownfish

Ocellaris clownfish in aquarium
Other namesFalse Percula Clownfish or Common Clownfish
Minimum tank size20 gallons
Maximum size4-inches
ColoringOrange, black, white

You know him as Nemo – and there’s a reason this little orange and white fish was chosen to star in the now Disney classic. Clownfish are incredibly fun little fish to keep, easy to care for, and have great personalities that mean they get along well with many other saltwater fish for aquariums and creatures from the bottom of the deep.

Clownfish live in sea anemones, in families, so these guys are best kept in mid-sized to large tanks for the best life possible. You can go as small as 20-gallon fish tanks, however, for just one or two. They get along really well with a wide variety of other fish and critters, as well, including:

  • Damselfish
  • Tangs – i.e. Dory
  • Wrasses
  • Blennies
  • Angelfish
  • Dartfish
  • Puffers
  • Soft or Hard Corals
  • Gobies
  • Marine Invertebrates
  • Pseudochromis

They’re slow-moving and relaxed fish that enjoy a symbiotic relationship with those anemones and especially do well in tanks with live rock and aquatic plants. Always aim for captive-bred of the clownfish and others.

Where to Purchase Clownfish Online

You can find these incredibly top-notch beginner saltwater fish just about anywhere, including Live Aquaria, That Pet Place, and Vivid Aquariums.

#4. Bicolor Blenny

Ecsenius bicolor Flame tail blenny
Other namesTwo-Colored Blenny, Flametail Blenny
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size4-inches
ColoringBlue to brown and orange

The Bicolor Blenny – or two-colored blenny – is named so because of its unusual “split” coloring. The males of the species are usually larger and experience a succession of color changes while breeding.

They’re a spunky, friendly little species of fish you’ll enjoy watching as they pop in and out among the crevices and rocks at the bottom of their environment. Be sure to provide them with loads of hiding and perching spots and at least 30-gallons of space.

These little guys are usually pretty peaceful, though they may pick on some of the smaller fish like gobies and dartfish or fleshy coral polyps. They do great in larger spaces – not so much the smaller ones – including reef tanks.

They help maintain and control algae – they love eating the stuff! – and make a bright, colorful addition to the aesthetics of your aquarium.

Where to Purchase Bi-Color Blennies Online

Live Aquaria has Bi-color Blenny to purchase. You can also find them at Vivid Aquariums and Petco.

#5. Mollies

molly fish in aquarium
Other namesMolly fish
Minimum tank size10 gallons
Maximum size4.5-inches

Mollies are an interesting collection of little community saltwater fish that can really add some interesting layers to your fishkeeping hobby. They come in a wide number of varieties:

  • Short-finned molly/common molly
  • Black molly
  • White molly
  • Balloon molly
  • Golden molly
  • Lyretail molly
  • Dalmatian molly

The varying shades and types of mollies make them a unique choice with tons of different colors and looks that can really pop in your aquarium setting. They’re also very affordable and actually can be either freshwater fish or saltwater fish, interestingly enough.

They’re algae eaters, so they help keep the aquarium clean – though you still a protein skimmer – and because they’re a peaceful species, they’re generally easy to keep with other brackish water fish.

Where to Purchase Mollies Online

Mollies are extremely popular peaceful saltwater fish, so they’re easy to find online. Try shopping at Arizona Aqua Gardens, Live Aquaria, or Petsmart.

Read our molly fish care guide here.

Large Saltwater Aquarium Fish

These guys need larger fish tanks, but they’re worth the investment.

#6. Lawnmower Blenny

lawnmower blenny
By Denis Cheong Zylantha – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Other namesAlgae Blenny, Jewelled Rockskipper Blenny, Rock Blenny
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size6-inches
ColoringShades of brown speckled on white

Lawnmower Blennies are a fantastic addition to any saltwater aquarium – though not reef tanks, as they nibble on corals. They’re great starter saltwater fish for people who want help controlling algae – they love eating algae – and need a fairly hardy saltwater fish in their stock.

These medium-sized fish are bottom dwellers that hop from rock to rock, gobbling up algae. They should be kept in larger aquariums – minimum of 30-gallons and kept away from other species that look similar – as well as fellow lawnmower blennies.

Where to Purchase Lawnmower Blennies Online

You’ll find these fish available at Saltwater Fish, Vivid Aquariums, and Petco.

#7. Kleins Butterflyfish

Kleins Butterflyfish
Other namesSunburst, Orange, Brown, Corallicola, or Blacklip Butterflyfish
Minimum tank size120 gallons
Maximum size6-inches
ColoringGolden yellow with black or blue/black eye band

While many Butterflyfish are not suitable for beginner aquarists – thanks to their wonky diet – the Klein’s Butterflyfish is actually pretty easy to care for.

They do need a rather large tank, however, which can be a deterrent for some newbies, but if you’ve got the space and equipment, you won’t regret have some of these beauties around. They can be kept with members of their own species – as long as they’re introduced together – which is also another special and easy-care quality in these beauties.

They need loads of swimming space and rocks for hiding, though they are not terribly reef-safe as they might nibble on your corals. They do well in fish-only and live rock tanks, though.

Where to Purchase Klein’s Butterflyfish Online

You can find these fish at Blue Zoo Aquatics, Petco, and Live Aquaria.

#8. Yellow Watchman Goby

Yellow watchmen goby in coral reef aquarium
Other namesYellow prawn goby, Yellow shrimp goby
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size4-inches
ColoringShades of yellow, with blue spots

The Watchman Goby is a burrower who needs loads of room for swimming. So, despite being a fairly small fish, you need to provide at least a 30-gallon tank for these guys.

They do best with sandy substrate – that burrowing characteristic – and they definitely should only be kept in aquariums with tightly fitting hoods, as they are jumpers.

These guys are peaceful with many other fish species, but tend to be aggressive with their own, except with their mates. Because of this, they make some of the best reef aquarium fish, especially because they’re really easy to care for.

Where to Purchase Watchman Goby Online

You’ll find Watchman Goby available at Saltwater Fish, Live Aquaria, and Blue Zoo Aquatics.

Small Saltwater Aquarium Fish

These smaller saltwater aquarium fish often don’t need as much space as some of the other species, but do be sure you understand their care needs before bringing one home to a tiny tank.

#9. Royal Gramma Basslet

Royal Gramma Basslet
Other namesN/A
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringPurple, yellow

For another stunning but small saltwater fish that can live together with other saltwater fish, you’ve got the Royal Gramma Basslet. These purple and yellow fish are vividly colorful, interesting, entertaining, and generally peaceful and compatible with fish of a similar temperament.

These fish are great for nano reef tanks with somewhat subdued lighting – which means they’re also great for beginners who are learning the ropes of marine tanks and nano tanks.

They like to hide among the rocks, so be sure to provide plenty of those, and they do best with at least 30-gallons – or 55+ gallons for schools of them – on a meaty diet of brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, and any quality meaty carnivore frozen preparations.

Where to Purchase Royal Gramma Basslets Online

You will find Royal Grammas on a wide range of sites including My Saltwater Fish Store, Live Aquaria, and Vivid Aquariums.

#10. Banggai Cardinalfish

Banggai Cardinalfish
Other namesHighfin Cardinal, Kaudern’s Cardinalfish
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringBlack stripes on white, orange or silver

The Banggai Cardinalfish is a great option for beginners. They thrive in peaceful reef tank settings and love small caves, subdued lighting, and generally quiet homes. They’re especially great for nano aquariums, thanks to their relaxed nature and size.

Banggai Cardinalfish are mouthbrooder and the males can actually hold up to 25 fry in their mouth four up to five weeks. This makes it one of the easiest fish to breed at home, as well.

These little guys need to be fed slowly – but should never be overfed. Give them time to take it in. They’re not fast movers in regular motions like other fish, but rather dart in and out in precise, short bursts when they’re ready to snatch a bite.

They’re not going to mess with your other fish, which is a big positive, and they leave inverts alone. And though you’ll see them in large schools at pet shops, they actually do best in pairs instead.

Interestingly enough, these little guys make friends with some other fun creatures like sea urchins and anemones. This can make a really fun pairing in the home aquarium as well. When the Banggai gets disturbed, it will actually rush “home” to the side of the sea urchin it has bonded with or go and hide in a safe spot.

And while they are not aggressive in general, if they’re faced with other Banggais of the same gender, they’ll flair their fins at each other as a sort of warning of, “hey! Stay away!” This leads to fighting because they can’t exactly swim to another part of the ocean to avoid each other. If you ever notice this happening, it’s best to separate them into different tanks.

Where to Purchas Baggai Cardinals Online

You’ll find these little guys available at multiple online retailers, including Vivid Aquariums, Blue Zoo Aquatics, and Aqua Corals.

#11. Talbot’s Demoiselle

Talbots Damselfish Chrysiptera talboti
Other namesTalbot’s Damselfish
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size2-inches
ColoringPurple, yellow

The Talbot’s Demoiselle or Damselfish is one of the best easy care saltwater fish that you’ll find anywhere. They’re beautiful with vivid purple and yellow or orange coloring and have a mostly mild personality. They’re a little aggressive towards other fish as they defend their territory as they age. They’re a very active species, which means they’re extremely enjoyable to watch and keep at home. They also need larger aquariums compared to their size – at least 30-gallons – to help reduce any aggression as well as provide them plenty of space for hiding or escaping other aggressive tankmates.

 These beauties are herbivores, so they like meaty live foods, algae and similar plants. But always use high-quality options that don’t load up the foods on artificial ingredients or grains. They’re very hardy little fish, reasonably priced, and genuinely are one of the easiest types of saltwater aquarium fish to care for.

Where to Purchase Talbot’s Demoiselle Online

You can find Talbot’s Damselfish for reasonable prices on a number of websites, including Live Aquaria, Blue Zoo Aquatics, and Saltwater Fish.

#12. Blue Damselfish

Blue Damselfish
Other namesOrangetail Blue Damselfish, or Blue Devil Damselfish
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringBlue, orange

These beautiful, vivid blue fish are an interesting addition to your reef tank. They need a fair amount of space for swimming – especially compared to their relative size – and can be somewhat aggressive as they defend their territory. If they live in aquariums large enough, however, they’re usually pretty compatible with similar sized fish that won’t try to eat them.

Blue Damselfish are extremely popular fish – perhaps the best-selling saltwater tropical fish because they’re beautiful but also one of the easiest saltwater fish to keep. Unlike many other species, these guys don’t attack corals, so they’re also a great reef tank fish. They’re a hardy species, too, which is a great quality in a beginner hobbyist’s fish.

Where to Purchase Blue Damselfish Online

You’ll find Blue Devil Damselfish – the most commonly used name online – at Live Aquaria, Blue Zoo Aquatics, and Petco.

#13. Orchid Dottybacks

Orchid Dottybacks
Other namesFridman’s Dottyback, or Fridman’s Pseudochromis
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringShades of Purple, red

For smaller tanks – minimum of 30-gallons, another bright, colorful purple fish you might love is the Orchid Dottyback.

This little fish can be aggressive in small tanks, but in the right size saltwater tank with hiding spots, they do well with many other species of fish – and add some bright pops of purple to red color all over the place.

They do really well in tanks loaded with live rock where they can hide and find food like zooplankton – which can be bought where they sell aquarium supplies.

They also prey on pests in the water – like small mantis shrimp or bristleworms – and absolutely make a great addition to any aquarium for this reason alone.

They can get territorial but generally are okay with other fish and work well with others with similar personalities.

Where to Purchase Orchid Dottybacks Online

Orchid Dottybacks are a popular saltwater fish, so they’re pretty easy to find. You can purchase them from sites like Live Aquaria, Saltwater Fish, or Miniwaters.fish.

Most Unique Saltwater Aquarium Fish

These unique fish are attractive and fun, but add just something a little bit different than the most common options out there.

#14. Swissguard Basslet

Swissguard Basslet
By Brian Gratwicke – originally posted to Flickr as Liopropoma rubre Poey, 1861. Peppermint bass, CC BY 2.0
Other namesSwales Swissguard Basslet, Peppermint Basslet, or Pacific Candy Basslet
Minimum tank size10 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringBlack, Blue, Orange, Purple, White

When you look at these adorable little fish, you know why they’ve been nick-named the Peppermint Basslet.

The colorful red stripes running lengthwise along their bodies give them a distinctive look that add a lot of value to your saltwater fish tank ideas of colorful reefs and interesting contrasts. They’re long and elegant and work well in nano reef tanks down to 10-gallons in size.

The Swissguard Basslet generally make for great reef tank fish as they leave corals and live rocks alone. They do, however, love to munch on smaller crustaceans, so you’ll want to avoid tiny crabs, shrimp, et cetera.

They’re carnivores, so they do best on finely chopped fresh and frozen marine fish, squid, vitamin-enriched brine shrimp, and mysis shrimp.

These guys do tend to be a more moderate care level than super easy and typically cost more than many other fish, so be sure to think through thoroughly how much time and money you can invest in these little beauties.

Where to Purchase Swissguard Basslets Online

You’ll find Swissguard Basslets at a variety of online shops including Live Aquaria, Blue Zoo Aquatics, and KP Aquatics.

#15. Firefish

Firefish goby
Other namesFirefish goby, fire goby, magnificent dartfish, or fire dartfish
Minimum tank size20 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringMulticolored variations

Firefish are gorgeous little ornamental saltwater fish that work seriously are some of the best fish for reef tank owners, especially beginner aquarists.

The bright colors pop against any background and their spunky little personalities and habits just make them fun to watch. They dart around, hiding and playing, flitting by and then diving for cover, seemingly for no reason at all.

These little guys usually hang around the bottom of their tanks, facing whatever current they’ve got, and wait for their prey – small invertebrates. So that does mean you’ve got to watch out for the kinds of critters you keep with them, though they rarely bother other fish, corals and invertebrates large enough to notice.

They can get a little territorial if they’re kept in aquariums that are overcrowded or too small, but generally, they’re pretty chill. Avoid keeping them with trigger fish, lionfish, and large angels, however.

Where to Purchase Firefish Online

You can find firefish for sale on Live Aquaria, Saltwater Fish, and Vivid Aquariums.

#16. Longnose Hawkfish

Longnose Hawkfish
Other namesN/A
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size5-inches
ColoringRed, white

For larger tanks – a minimum of 30 gallons, but ideally these are saltwater fish for 55 gallon tanks or larger – you may want to consider getting yourself some Longnose Hawkfish.

The name isn’t all that appealing, but the fish itself is a unique, colorful, and fun mid-sized fish that adds a lot to the right aquarium setup.

Be sure to keep a tight-fitting lid on your aquarium – these guys are escape artists – and they can be a little aggressive towards other long-bodied fish. Otherwise, they’re pretty chill, easy to feed, and very fun little guys to watch darting around the aquarium.

Where to Purchase Longnose Hawkfish Online

You can find these popular fish on a variety of sites, including Vivid Aquariums, Petco, and Live Aquaria.

#17. Pajama Cardinal Fish

Pajama Cardinal Fish
Other namesN/A
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Maximum size3-inches
ColoringVariated browns, yellows, tans, off-whites, creams, et cetera/Mutli-patterned

These strange little fish have been so named Pajama Cardinalfish for their unique patterns. They kind of look like they’re wearing a set of polka dotted or checked pajamas.

They have yellow and green faces, a black band around their middle, and then bright polka dots on their tails – sometimes looking a little like checked patterns.

They need to be kept in 20+ gallon size tanks, or 30+ for schooling. They’re a little on the shy side and keep to themselves, but they’re active at night and feed then. They hide during the day, especially among live plants and rocks.

Apart from their intriguing looks, these guys are some of the best saltwater aquarium for beginners because they’re really easy to care for – they have great temperaments and easy to work with feeding needs.

They ignore invertebrates – which is huge for nano tanks in particular – and generally get along with most fish small enough not to eat them.

Where to Purchase Pajama Cardinalfish Online

You can find these little guys online at Aqua Locker, Live Aquaria, and Saltwater Fish.

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