21 Absolute Best Saltwater Fish for Beginners

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Over the course of weeks, I’ve researched hundreds of different species of saltwater fish. Then, I selected the best into a list for you.

Most online websites fail to mention critical details about many of the fish on this list. I set out to fix that.

Keep reading to find out what is the best saltwater fish for your aquarium.

#1 – Clownfish (Best Beginner Saltwater Fish)

  • Quick Info: Very hardy, easy to keep
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Scientific Name: Amphiprioninae

The Clownfish is a popular pick among the saltwater community, in no small part due to the Disney movie: Finding Nemo.

You might remember Nemo was a Clownfish, and if you’re excited to add one into your aquarium you’re in luck. The clownfish is one of the most popular saltwater fish out there, making finding food easy.

Tank raised Ocellaris Clownfish are more colorful and hardier than wild ones. They also tend to be more active and you will rarely catch them hiding. For that, they’re at the top of our list.

#2 – Mollies

  • Quick Info: Very hardy, easy to keep
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Scientific Name: Poecilia Sphenops

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

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

The wide variety of mollies allows you to create a beautiful color combination for your aquarium. They are also affordable and can live in both freshwater and saltwater tanks.

Mollies are also algae eaters, which help your aquarium stay clean. With that, they are known to be peaceful so you can easily keep them with other brackish water fish.

#3 – Yellow Tang

  • Quick Info: Very hardy, rarely hide
  • Care Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
  • Diet: Herbivores
  • Scientific Name: Zebrasoma Flavescens

One of the most common saltwater fish folks know is the Yellow Tang.

These beautiful yellow fish have a quirky face with an even quirkier personality that you’ll fall in love with. Yellow Tangs also love exploring their tanks and rarely hide.

Finding a Yellow Tang won’t be a challenge as it’s likely your local fish store may have one. They are reasonably priced and easy to care for. They tend to be aggressive though, so they must be housed properly with other fish they won’t go after.

These fish 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. They also tend to nibble at coral polyps a bit, so if you have a coral tank, introducing a Yellow Tang wouldn’t be the move.

Despite being a bit aggressive, these fish love to nourish on algae and other plants. You can find some tasty seaweed wafers, plant-based foods, and other foods they’ll love pretty easily.

#4 – Banggai Cardinalfish (My Favorite Saltwater Fish)

  • Quick Info: Hardy, easy to keep
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Pterapogon Kauderni

In all my years of fishkeeping, the Banggai Cardinalfish is by far my favorite fish of all time. They tend to float around in the tank in the open making an almost decorative look in the tank as they hang around their favorite spots.

Banggai Cardinalfish tend to be Semi-Aggressive but from what I’ve noticed, they only tend to be aggressive towards other Cardinalfish. All in all, the Banggai Cardinalfish is a good choice for a beginner saltwater fishkeeper.

#5 – Bicolor Blenny

  • Quick Info: Hardy, comes in many colors
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Scientific Name: Ecsenius bicolor

The Bicolor Blenny – two colored blenny – gets its unique name because of its unusual split in coloring. Males are usually larger and experience a succession in color changes while breeding.

They’re a friendly little species of fish you’ll enjoy watching as they explore the crevices inside your tank. If you do decide on getting a Bicolor Blenny, make sure to provide them with loads of hiding spaces.

These small creatures tend to be peaceful, although they may pick on some smaller fish like gobies and dartfish every now and then. They thrive in large tanks and love to explore spaces across the aquarium.

Like other fish on this list, they help maintain Algae inside the tank. The Bicolor Blenny is a great choice for one who wants a colorful fish in their aquarium.

#6 – Green Chromis

  • Quick Info: Colorful, likes to school, inexpensive, hardy
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Scientific Name: Chromis Viridis

The Green Chromis is a mellow fish, which makes them easy to care for and is a perfect addition to a new saltwater aquarium. They are a schooling fish, and enjoy an aquarium with plenty of live rocks.

In a well lit aquarium, the Green Chromis will look like a floating emerald. They are a colorful, hardy fish, making them a perfect option for a beginner saltwater fish keeper.

#7 – Yellow Watchman Goby

  • Quick Info: Inexpensive, hardy, and beautiful
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Cryptocentrus Cinctus

The Yellow Watchman Goby is one of the easiest fish to keep on our list. They are not picky about their diet and will eat food available at the pet store. You won’t break the bank buying one, and their hardy. Goby fish in general are also popular, so it’s likely you’ll find some at your local pet store.

The Watchman Goby is a peaceful fish, and generally gets along with other fish but other Gobies, so make sure you keep them separated if you get more than one.

#8 – Firefish Goby

  • Quick Info: Hardy, and doesn’t need a large tank
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Nemateleotris Magnifica

Another beautiful Goby for saltwater beginners is the Firefish Goby. These gorgeous fish have a light-colored body with a red/orange tail; that’s how they got their name.

Firefish Gobies are peaceful, which is a perfect choice for community aquariums. They also eat whatever is given to them. Watching them is always a blast because they move fast and like to hide.

#9 – Clown Goby

  • Quick Info: Hardy, comes in many colors, inexpensive
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Gobiodon

The Clown Goby is a good choice for any saltwater aquarium because they are peaceful, come in many different colors, and are relatively inexpensive and hardy.

If you are operating a reef tank, the Clown Goby will perch itself on live rocks and coral. If you have SPS corals though, you might want to be careful as they tend to nip at the smaller polyps.

Like other Goby’s on this list, they tend to be peaceful with everyone but their own species. If you decide on purchasing multiple Clown Gobies, make sure to separate them.

#10 – Lawnmower Blenny

  • Quick Info: Eats algae, hardy, inexpensive
  • Care Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Scientific Name: Salarias Fasciatus

For someone who wants a peaceful and attractive fish, the Lawnmower blenny is a good option. With them being inexpensive and hardy, they’re a good option for a beginner marine aquarist. Their mottled tan color, oversized eyes, and body shape of the Blenny family adds a visual appeal to almost any saltwater aquarium.

They tend to perch on live rock, hide in caves, and explore substrates. They also keep your aquarium clean by eating algae.

Lawnmower Blennies are peaceful to other aquatic life, but tend to be a bit aggressive to fish with their own body shape. Use caution when placing them with corals though, as they tend to nip at small-polyped stony coral and calm mantles.

#11 – Green Coris Wrasse

  • Quick Info: Tiny, hardy, active
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Halichoeres Chloropterus

The Green Coris Wrasse is a small hardy fish excellent for beginners. Although they only grow up to 7.5 inches, they need at least a 75 gallon aquarium. This is in large part due to their active lifestyle.

They are generally peaceful and will get along with other peaceful Wrasse, including other Green Coris Wrasse. They also tend to protect corals and clams by eating fireworms and pyramidellid snails as well as eat parasites off tank mates.

#12 – Pajama Cardinalfish

  • Quick Info: Hardy, easy to care for.
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Sphaeramia Nematoptera

These mysterious saltwater fish got their name from the unique patterns. They kind of look like they’re wearing a set of polka dotted or checked pajamas.

If you want to keep one, a 20+ gallon tank is needed but a 30 gallon tank is recommended. They tend to be shy, but when you feed them they’ll put on a show for you. During the day Pajama Cardinalfish tend to hide among live plants and rocks so make sure your aquarium has plenty of them.

Apart from their intriguing looks, these little guys are one of the best saltwater fish for beginners. They are easy to care for, have easy temperaments, and easy to work with feeding wise.

They ignore invertebrates, which is perfect for nano tanks, and generally get along with most fish small enough not to eat them.

#13 – Blue Damselfish

  • Quick Info: Colorful, hardy, active
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Scientific Name: Chrysiptera Cyanea

For reef tanks, these beautiful, vivid blue fish are a great option. They need plenty of room in their aquarium compared to their size and can be aggressive at times, trying to defend their territory. For tank mates, Blue Damselfish are generally peaceful to fish with similar size that aren’t trying to eat them.

Among the saltwater fishkeeping community, they are extremely popular. Perhaps the best selling saltwater tropical fish, they are one of the easiest fish to keep. They don’t attack corals so they’re an almost perfect match for reef tanks. They’re a hardy species too, which is great for beginner hobbyists.

#14 – Royal Gramma Basslet

  • Quick Info: Colorful, hardy, easy to keep
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Gramma Loreto

Another small but stunning saltwater fish that can live with other fish is the Royal Gramma Basslet. These purple and yellow fish are vividly colorful, interesting, and entertaining.

These fish are great for nano reef tanks with subdued lighting, which is perfect for beginners who are learning the ropes of marine tanks and nano tanks.

They do best with at least a 30 gallon or 55+ gallon tank if you’re schooling them. They love hiding in rocks so make sure your tank has plenty.

#15 – Chalk Bass

  • Quick Info: Hardy, doesn’t need a big tank
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Serranus Tortugarum

Another hardy, colorful, and small fish, the Chalk Bass is a good option for beginner saltwater fishkeepers.

They are tough little guys, as they are known for their long lifespans and can even live in less optional water conditions which is perfect for beginners.

You can keep multiple Chalk Bass in the same aquarium, and in fact many people do! If you want to do this, make sure to introduce all of them at the same time, as they can be very territorial fish. To ideally keep one, a 30 gallon tank with plenty of hiding spots is ideal.

#16 – Longnose Hawkfish

  • Quick Info: Hardy, interesting looking
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Oxycirrhites Typus

For those that crave an interesting red fish in their tank, Longnose Hawkfish may be a good option. They come in many different varieties and have an interesting look that adds to any saltwater aquarium. It’s also hardy, making it good for beginner fishkeepers. Make sure to have a tight fitting lid though, as they are known to be great escape artists.

This species is also aggressive and may pick on more peaceful fish and most fish introduced to the aquarium after them. To successfully keep a Longnose Hawkfish, make sure its tank mates are bigger than them. With proper caution and planning, the Longnose Hawkfish can be a great addition to any saltwater tank.

#17 – Tomato Clownfish

  • Quick Info: Hardy, cute clownfish
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Scientific Name: Amphiprion Frenatus

Another clownfish on our list, the Tomato Clownfish is an interesting option For someone who wants a clownfish, but a little more unique, these fish are a good option. These fish are easy to keep and add a unique look to your aquarium.

Feeding these fish will be easy as their omnivores and will practically eat anything from live food, frozen food, and even flake food. For beginner saltwater fish keepers who want an easy fish to keep, the Tomato Clownfish is a good option to look into.

#18 – Flame Hawkfish

  • Quick Info: Hardy, active
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Neocirrhites Armatus

The Flame Hawkfish is a beautiful small hardy fish perfect for most saltwater reef tanks. Their vibrant color, personable nature, and small size makes them sought after by many hobbyists.

Keeping them with other fish is easy, but make sure their tank mates are larger than them as they tend to be aggressive to smaller fish.

If you’re looking for a fish that will explore every inch of your aquarium, the Flame Hawkfish may be an option to consider.

#19 – Diamond Goby

  • Quick Info: Hardy, cleans sand
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Valenciennea Puellaris

The Diamond Goby can be a timid fish to some beginners, but for those with reef tanks this fish can be a treasure. The reason for this is because they are hardy, have a long lifespan, and they clean sand.

To keep one, having a 30 gallon tank with plenty of live sand as the substrate is best. Diamond Gobies tend to bury themselves in sand to take refuge, which keeps the substrate oxygenated. They are generally peaceful to most fish, but are known to sometimes show signs of aggression towards their own kind, unless they are a mated pair.

#20 – Six Line Wrasse

  • Quick Info: Cheap, colorful
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Pseudocheilinus Hexataenia

For someone wanting a colorful fish without breaking the bank, the Six Line Wrasse is a good option to look into. As long as you have a peaceful aquarium with plenty of hiding spots, they will be a blast to look at.

The Six Line Wrasse are known to be peaceful with many similar fish, but can be aggressive to other Wrasse and easily-intimidated fish. This is especially true if they are not fed properly, or there is a shortage of hiding spots for them.

#21 – Dottyback

  • Quick Info: Hardy, comes in different color variations
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Scientific Name: Pseudochromidae

For the last pick on our list of the best beginner saltwater fish, the Dottyback is a good option for new fishkeepers. This hardy fish comes in many different colors including blue, purple, and yellow as well as bicolor that are half yellow and half purple.

To house one, use a 30 gallon tank. The Dottyback can be aggressive, but with proper tank size and plenty of hiding spots paired with a good diet, they’re typically happy and peaceful.

What to do next?

Make sure there’s enough space in your aquarium when purchasing any of these fish on our list. Check out our guide on how many fish you should keep in your fish tank

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Author
Hey there, my name is Gunnar Kennedy. I'm a fishkeeping enthusiast who's been in the hobby for over a decade now! I love sharing new ideas and helping others care for their aquatic friends!

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