Waterbox Cube 20 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium

Top Five Beginner Saltwater Tanks

Updated 2024

Let’s face it, starting your first marine aquarium can be overwhelming, especially with all the complex jargon in the hobby. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert to begin. Here are my top five tanks suitable for beginners. Take a look at the pros and cons of each before making your final decision.

While some enthusiasts might suggest going bigger and better, it’s essential to consider that larger tanks can be more expensive. As a beginner, your learning curve will be steep, and gaining experience will help you determine your preferences for future tanks. So, take your time, start with a beginner-friendly tank, and enjoy your exciting journey into the marine aquarium hobby!

I’m a part of this new project called HelloReef.  It’s an all in one kit with an online learning portal with over 50 step-by-step videos to walk you through everything.  If you don’t know where to start but want to get started, just get the kit.  Obviously I’m biased, but it’s really good.

1.HelloReef Clownfish Anemone Kit 15 Gallon

The HelloReef saltwater aquarium kit box, slightly at an angle showing primarily the front of the box and part of the side. on the front of the box is a large image of an orange clownfish in an anemone, which takes up 3/4 of the panel covering the upper left portion.

So, there have been a lot of attempts at building a truly all in one kit, but none of them has gone this far.  There is not only a ton of stuff in this kit, but I made 50 educational videos that walk you through everything step by step.  Rather than write out all of the details, here is a video I made for HelloReef!

I was a part of the team that developed this new tank, and I stand behind it… big time.  This kit comes with so much, that you don’t need to upgrade.  the only things it doesn’t come with is the water.  Okay, so it doesn’t come with the pets, but it does come with a $20 gift card toward the purchase of your first pet… so that’s pretty cool.

And on top of this, HelloReef is committed to helping save the reefs, by donating 2% of all net proceeds to coral restoration work.

If you don’t know where to start, and just want to get started… start with this tank!  (That was a lot of starts!)

2. Deskmate 4.8 Gallon AIO Acrylic Aquarium Kit

I’m slightly hesitant to recommend this kit.  Mainly because it’s really small, and really small means it can be challenging for beginners.  But, if you are careful, if you lightly stock, if you keep up with your water testing and commit to large weekly water changes you can make it work.

I made a really cool beginner tank with this kit.  It’s so small, that it’s perfect on your desk at work.  While it doesn’t come with everything that the HelloReef kit comes with, it’s a great value.  Here’s a video I made on it for BRS.

I mean for the price, it’s incredible what you get.  The light is strong enough for soft and LPS coral, there is plenty of rock and sand included, it comes with a heater and beneficial bacteria to get the cycle kick started.

This would not be my first choice for beginners.  Honestly, this is more of an intermediate level tank, but if you are up to it, go right ahead. 

3. RedSea Reefer MAX 200 G2+ 42 Gallon

product image on white background of redsea reefer max saltwater aquarium on a black cabinet stand. Inside the stand is a glass sump filled with a fleece roller mat, return pump, and protein skimmer.

I drive a Kia EV6 which is a super nice car.  But this setup would be the equivalent of a fully decked out Rivian.  If money is not an issue for you, get this tank.  It is crazy how much gear it comes with.

Still a small 42 gallon tank, RedSea has packed it with all of its own gear.  We’re talking high end light, wavemaker, return pump, filter roller, skimmer, controllers, ATO, and I don’t remember what else.

My first tank was the RedSea Reefer 170, which is basically this tank without all of the added gear.  And I can’t stress this enough.  RedSea doesn’t make a crappy piece of gear, so you are getting high end versions of everything. Will you pay for it all?  Yes, but is it a bargain for the quality of gear you are getting… Absolutely! 

4. RedSea MAX Nano G2 Peninsula Aquarium 26 Gallon

Another high end option from RedSea, this build is significantly less expensive because it’s smaller, doesn’t have a sump, doesn’t include nearly as much gear, and doesn’t have a stand. But, it’s compact meaning it could fit on a sturdy desk, table, or cabinet.

An AIO style system, this peninsula tank has two large viewing panels and a rear filtration chamber. It includes a lot of gear, incluing LED light, filter sock, return pump, protein skimmer, and gravity fed ATO. But you can upgrade and add a fleece roller mat as well as the ReefATO+.

I do like these systems, but value for price, I would always choose the HelloReef kit over this one.  But, if 15 gallons just isn’t big enough, then I’d consider this 26 gallon tank.  It’s a great system, just a bit pricey for the size.

5. IM 20 Nuvo Fusion Peninsula Pro 2 AIO w/ Pedestal

I absolutely love this tank.  It’s a great size, I love the peninsula style (really it’s my favorite), and it comes with quite a few pieces of gear to get your started.  And for the price, I really don’t think there is a much better deal out there.

I’ve made several videos with this build, including my favorite of all time, the Caribbean Garden Tank.  I think I was using the 14 gallon version, so imagine how much you can add to the 20 gallon tank!

I’ve owned, I don’t know, somewhere approaching 10 at this point, IM tanks that is.  They all come with some great essentials such as a DC pump, filter sock, acrylic media caddy, a pre-built mesh screen, and a few other accessories that I don’t really use (like a pretty crappy small round magnetic algae scraper).

The pedestal is handy to have, but I do prefer the stand, so I can store some gear and a five gallon ATO reservoir underneath.  If the HelloReef kit doesn’t appeal to you, then my second choice would absolutely be this beauty from Innovative Marine.  

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