10 Best Peaceful Reef Fish – Perfect for Beginners

So, you have decided to set up a reef aquarium, which is super exciting and sometimes overwhelming for beginners like yourself.

As there are so many different fish, invertebrates and corals you can add to create the perfect ‘mini-ocean’ in your home, knowing what to put inside can be the trickiest part of starting your new hobby.

As your tank is probably not mature and established yet, you will want fish that are hardy and can live in harmony with one another so you can spend your time perfecting your tank and its maintenance.

Each fish has a different personality making it difficult to select favorites for your tank. Well, to help you decide what fish to put in your aquarium, I have put a list of some of my favorite peaceful fish that would be great for your new reef tank!

My Top 10 Peaceful Reef Fish Perfect for Beginners

Ocellaris Clownfish

(Amphiprion ocellaris)

Starting from $22

My parents always told me growing up “there are no favorites in this house” but I can’t help but love these guys over the others. Popularity since the movie Finding Nemo has allowed them to become #1, not that they needed help before!

It seems it is not only me, but these are also by far the most popular reef fish out there! They are so easy to fall in love with as they swim around the tank in a waddling motion, showing off their bright orange and white striped coloration. You can also find them in white and black colorations and now ‘Designer’ patterns, but they are expensive!

Captive-Bred Oscellaris Clownfish are much hardier than wild-harvested ones, making them great for beginners. They like to be kept in pairs and share the tank with a Bubble-Tip Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) to hide and play inside, and to lay their eggs, although they do perfectly well without an anemone – Mine do!

Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Peaceful – Can Be semi-aggressive with eggs laid
Lifespan:3-6 years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons
Origin:Eastern Indian Ocean & Western Pacific Ocean,
but are now Captive Bred

Green & Blue Reef Chromis

(Chromis viridis)

Starting from $12

The Green Chromis is easy to look after, hardy and has a beautiful shiny green to blue colour making it a preferred reef fish, even for experienced hobbyists. These fish are so peaceful that they can be kept with almost any other reef fish, invertebrates, and even corals – making them compatibility kings/queens.

They love to shoaling and schooling in all areas of the tank, so it is recommended to buy them in odd numbers of 3 or more. They can be known to pick off one another until there is only one left, but using the odd number to a shoal rule seems to prevent that – For whatever reason!

They like to swim at the top of the aquarium and use rocks, corals, and ornaments to hide in when they feel nervous. Because these are very confident open water swimmers they do really well at helping shy fish come out of the shadows.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:8-15 years
Max. Size:4”
Min. Tank Size:15 gallons

Royal Gramma Basslet

(Gramma loreto)

Source: Andreas63

Starting from $27

Bursting with color and being relatively small, the Royal Gramma Basslet is a great peaceful beginner fish and is suitable for nano reefs. Due to their origin, these fish prefer caves to hide inside and subdued lighting.

These are peaceful to other fish in the aquarium community but can be aggressive towards their kind for territory, therefore you should only keep one in the community aquarium.

If you want a fish that is active and bursting with color to brighten up your tank, then the Royal Gramma has to be at the top of your list! It took me years before I bought one of these and now it’s one of my favorite fish!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5+ years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons
Origin:Caribbean & Tropical Western Pacific

Clown/Citron Goby

(Gobiodon citrinus)

Source: Rob

Starting from $30

These adorable fish love corals, especially SPS coral colonies. Their body is yellow with blue stripes around their eyes and gills. They are only small little guys but when they perch in a coral of contrasting color they really pop!

They are peaceful, but they do prefer to be the only clown goby in the tank. You can find them perching on rock and coral just watching the goings on and once you begin to keep SPS coral, especially Acropora’s keen an eye on them as they may like to sit in the same spot on a coral which can distress the coral.

A great little fish, bright in colour that are the ultimate Nano Reef Kings!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5-8 years
Max. Size:2”
Min. Tank Size:10 gallons
Origin:Africa, Fiji, Indonesia & Maldives

Ruby Head Fairy Wrasse

(Cirrhilabrus cf cyanopleura)

Starting from $70

These brightly coloured peaceful fish will fit right into any aquarium!

It has a blue body with a stylish red ‘ombre’ look. This fish is like a mood ring, depending on its mood it will show different shades of blues and purples. When the males want to show off to the females, he will intensify his “Look” – putting a show on for you and your family.

As they are larger reef fish, they will need a larger tank with some shaded areas. They are also keen jumpers, so remember to have a secure lid or a mesh top if you do bring these fish home.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:6-8 years
Max. Size:5”
Min. Tank Size:90 gallons

McCosker’s Flasher Wrasse

(Paracheilinus mccoskeri)

Starting from $50

It may not be so easy to pronounce, but this fish is easy to care for and they settle in very well to established aquariums. They get their name from their courting dance when the male flashes his fins to attract the females.

This flasher wrasse is orange with iridescent blue stripes that is super easy on the eyes, making it the superstar in any aquarium.

You will want to place a lid or mesh on your aquarium as these are also eager jumpers and it’s such a terrible waste to lose one that way!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5 years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:55 gallons
Origin:Africa, Maldives, Indonesia, Australia

Purple Firefish Goby

(Nemateleotris decora)

Source: Nat Tarbox

Starting from $60

This tubular, colourful fish is very hardy, making it a great fish to brighten up a beginner’s aquarium. They spend their time both near the surface and at the bottom of the aquarium, especially when feeding, also they enjoy taking shelter on live rock, so be sure to add some in for them.

They can be kept in pairs but expect them to soon become parents! These firefish also love to jump out of the tank, so be aware of this when choosing a tank as you will need a lid or mesh. 

They are great fish for helping shy tankmates venture out into the open water of the tank. A great peaceful, beginner fish!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5 years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons

Pajama Cardinalfish

(Sphaeramia nematoptera)

Starting from $13

These guys have a crazy coloration that will look awesome in your aquarium! They get their name from their red polka dots that look like they are wearing pajamas. They are very peaceful, super-hardy, small, and very affordable too, making them extremely popular, especially for nano reef tank hobbyists and beginners.

All the Cardinalfish like to hover in the tank creating a serene alternate to the movement of very active fish. Paired with Long-Spined Urchins they make a unique pairing as they hang out in the spines of the Urchin for protection.

You can keep them in groups, but when they couple up for breeding, they can become slightly aggressive towards each other.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5-15 years
Max. Size:3½”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons
Origin:Fiji & Western Indo-Pacific, but now are captive bred

Zebra Barred Dartfish

(Ptereleotris zebra)

Starting from $25

The Zebra Barred Dartfish also goes by the names Zebra Dart Goby, Bar Goby, Barred Dartfish, Zebra Goby, and even Chinese Zebra Goby. Their colouration is incredibly unique, as it cannot be fully captured in photos! The shimmer these beautiful fish create is truely stunning!

These fish are not usually kept by aquarium hobbyists as many people do not know about them But if you can find them in your local fish store or at one of the online suppliers then you will not regret purchasing this fish!

Due to their size and schooling behavior, they should have plenty of room and live rock inside the aquarium to be able to swim, but bolt into safety when they feel threatened. They like to be housed in pairs or small groups, but they need to all be introduced at the same time.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5 years
Max. Size:4”
Min. Tank Size:30 gallons
Origin:Fiji, Indonesia & Maldives

Tailspot Blenny

(Ecsenius stigmatura)

Source: Haplochromis

Starting from $30

These tiny ‘stick’ fish have a defining dark spot at the end of its tail, and a black and yellow line below its eye-it looks like it is wearing eyeliner!

Like other blennies, they enjoy spending most of their time at the bottom part of the tank lying on substrates such as sand and rock, and then darting into small crevices to hide. You should not be placing aggressive fish into the tank with them, as you do not want these little fish to be hiding all the time.

They have strong personalities so they like to show off and often can become aggressive towards their same kind, so it is best you only buy one of these spotty guys for the community.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:2-5 years
Max. Size:2½”
Min. Tank Size:10 gallons

To Finish

A beginner fish is peaceful, easy to look after, hardy, and not too expensive (hopefully). Even as a beginner you can still fill your aquarium with a colourful variety of fish from this list. Your family and friends are going to be super jealous when they see your beautiful ‘mini-ocean’ in your home!

Remember that before adding fish to your aquarium, research their needs and compatibility, no one likes bullies in the room – the same applies to your fish in their home!

These peaceful, colorful perfect fish for beginners will ensure your tank is not a constant battle of squabble leading to fish disease and death.

Further Reading:

If you found this article interesting and would like to keep reading, I highly recommend the following articles from my blog:


Hi, I'm Richard and I have been an avid aquarist for over 30 years with a passion for Saltwater Aquariums. I love to pass on my knowledge to help others get the same amount a pleasure out of this hobby as I do. View my About Me page to find out more about me & my mixed reef aquarium.

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