The 12 Best Corals for Beginners


The 12 Best Corals for Beginners

One look at a mature reef tank is enough to get people dreaming about having a saltwater aquarium of their own. But corals are some of the more intimidating animals to keep.

Corals really look like they're from another planet, don't they? And sure, taking care of them does have its science-y side—you've got to keep an eye on things like calcium, strontium, magnesium, and a bunch of other stuff that sounds like it's straight out of a chemistry class.

It might seem like a lot to handle at first.

But hey, everyone begins their journey at some point, right? Every expert in marine aquaria once took that initial plunge, armed with nothing but enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

To kickstart your own adventure, here's a carefully selected lineup of the top 12 most favorite corals for beginners that make starting a saltwater aquarium an exciting and manageable endeavor!

The 12 Best Corals for Beginners

Common Names for Corals

Shopping for corals at your local fish store feels like decoding a secret language, and just when you think you've got the hang of it, it changes. The reason? Corals don't just go by one name.

For instance, what one shop may call a "Zebra Stripe Mushroom," another might label as a "Striped Discosoma." And a coral known as "Red Dragon Acropora" in one store could be listed as "Crimson Sea Monster" down the road.

This isn't just to make life complicated; it's because each name is often used to describe specific genetics or variations unique to that coral.

You see, corals are like living, underwater snowflakes – no two are exactly alike. So, when you hear names thrown around, think of them as a nod to a coral's specific lineage or its visual characteristics, almost like a family name or a nickname.

To make your journey into coral selection easier, we've compiled a list using common names—broad labels that cover the entire spectrum of color variations and strains within each coral group.

What Are the Qualities of Good Beginner Corals?

With a vast ocean out there packed with over 6,000 coral species, you've got some that are super picky about their light and water, while others are pretty chill and don't mind a few rookie mistakes.

So, if you're just starting out, it's best to go for easy coral species that won't throw a fit if conditions aren't perfect. These are your beginner-friendly corals, the ones that'll forgive you while you're getting the hang of things.

What Are the Qualities of Good Beginner Corals?

Just a heads-up: acing fish care doesn't automatically mean you'll ace coral care. Corals play by different rules, so it's worth learning what they specifically require.

And you know what? The more you hang out in this hobby, the better you'll get at it. Eventually, you'll be ready to take on the more high-maintenance corals—it's all part of the fun!

So, what exactly are the qualities that make corals beginner-friendly?

Resistant to Poor Water Quality

Reef tank keepers need to be continually aware of the buildup and cycling of waste products. Especially ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate as part of the nitrogen cycle.

The thing is, most corals are in a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae living in their tissues, and these algae need a bit of nitrogenous waste to do their thing.

Warning: As always, too much waste, and things can go south quickly.

Now, thanks to the resilience of some hardy corals, they can flourish even as levels of nitrates and other parameters trend upward.

Importance of Water Parameter Stability

Stability is important to all corals. Sudden shifts in parameters stress out these slow-growing animals. The ocean is a highly stable environment, for the most part. So corals have little ability to adapt to sudden changes.

Note: While fish might shrug off brief spikes in ammonia or nitrite, such fluctuations can be deadly in a reef tank.

To make sure that the tank is well-equipped with the necessary biological processes, introducing nitrifying bacteria is essential to maintain a healthy tank cycle (you can delve into the specifics of the nitrogen cycle and the role of nitrifying bacteria here.

DrTim's Nitrifying Bacteria

And while you are at it, conduct daily water parameter checks with a reliable test kit. These consistent tests are your best tool for tracking the stability of your tank's environment and heading off any potential issues before they become serious problems.

API Marine saltwater test Kit

If, after several weeks, your water parameters have consistently fallen within these ideal ranges:

  • Water temperature: 72 to 78
  • pH: 8.3 to 8.4
  • Nitrate: less than 10 ppm

You can reasonably conclude that your tank has stabilized and is ready. If the parameters are off, water changes are the way to go to dial them into the sweet spot.

Tolerates Moderate Light

Aside from water chemistry, lighting is also one of the most crucial elements to consider when setting up new saltwater reef tanks.

Remember those tiny algae living within their tissues? They are photosynthetic organisms called zooxanthellae, which harness light to produce sugars, which in turn feed the corals like Zoanthids. So what's in it for the algae? Well, corals provide a home and the algae pay rent in sugar!

Consequently, these zooxanthellae—and by extension, the corals themselves—require intense lighting that emulates the right spectrum found in their natural, sunlit habitats.

To ensure that your corals can make the most of this light, keeping your water crystal clear is vital. Murky or cloudy water can significantly reduce light penetration, depriving your corals of the energy they need.

Now, if you're just starting, you'll be glad to know that most corals suited for beginners don't need too much light. Moderate lighting is not only less expensive to buy. They are also less expensive to operate since the bulbs consume less power.

Less Aggressive Corals

The aggressive nature of coral species is not often discussed in the aquarium hobby. First-time reef tank keepers might think all the corals get along with each other in saltwater aquariums.

But corals fight fiercely for living space. They use sweeper tentacles, and chemical agents, and even spew their digestive organs onto their neighbors. All to ensure no other corals can grow too close.

Some reef tank species on this list are aggressive – but have too little reach to hurt their neighbors. Acan Lords are one example. Others may have mild stings or a slow growth rate.

So, make sure any other species you keep with these beginner corals are spaced properly. And well-matched in temperament.


Invasiveness in corals refers to the tendency of some species to grow aggressively, potentially crowding out or overgrowing other corals in the aquarium.

While a hardy characteristic for survival in the wild, in the confines of an aquarium, it can become a problem for a mixed-species setup.

For beginners, it's important to select less invasive corals, so different species can coexist without one overrunning the others.

This consideration helps maintain biodiversity and reduces the need for frequent intervention or coral pruning.

Pro Tip: Think about how much space they’ll take up. You want ones that play nice with their neighbors and don’t spread too fast, hogging all the room and resources.

General Types of Corals

General Types of Corals

Diving into the reef-keeping world often begins with the more forgiving soft corals.

As hobbyists gain experience and confidence, they typically graduate to the more challenging hard corals, which are split into two main categories: LPS (Large Polyp Stony) and SPS (Small Polyp Stony) corals.

In this beginner's guide, we start with easy-going soft corals and gradually move to the more demanding hard corals, which include LPS and SPS varieties.

The 6 Best Soft Corals for Beginners

Soft corals are the laid-back members of the coral community, perfect for beginners. Unlike their hard coral cousins, they don't have a rigid calcium carbonate skeleton, which is why they're called "soft."

These corals are great for beginners because they're not as demanding about water conditions and lighting. Plus, they can often tolerate the small mistakes new reef-keepers might make.

Many grow explosively in a saltwater fish tank rich in nitrates (tanks where water changes are lax). A few are even as colorful as stony corals.

In short, soft corals are a brilliant way to get your feet wet in the world of reef-keeping.

1. Zoanthids (Zoas)

Zoanthids (Zoas)

If you're looking to quickly add some eye-catching beauty to your tank without breaking the bank, Zoanthids are perfect.

These corals are not only relatively inexpensive but also come in a kaleidoscope of colors to choose from. With over 100 varieties, you'll find Zoanthids in nearly every color combination imaginable. They grow in snug clusters of polyps, all connected by a shared mat of tissue.

They adapt well to mixed reefs and are perfectly content under basic LED lighting, making them a hassle-free choice for aquarists on the go.

Warning: it's crucial to handle these corals with care as some Zoanthids contain palytoxin, an extremely potent neurotoxin. Always wear gloves and wash your hands after handling them.

  • Scientific Name: Zoanthus, Palythoa
  • Origin: Worldwide, mainly Indo-Pacific and Caribbean
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Growth Rate: May vary depending on the type
  • Recommended for: Beginners to experts; they're colorful, easy to grow, and propagate easily

2. Green Star Polyps (GPS)

Green Star Polyps (GPS)

Green Star Polyps are one of the more exotic-looking soft coral species. An established colony can look like a softly waving field of grass covering your live rock.

Green Star Polyps will even grow to cover the substrate and aquarium glass. Sooner or later you will need to trim back these soft corals. Since they don't have a hard skeleton, doing so is effortless and gives you sections you can even share with your reef aquarist friends!

GPS aren't aggressive in the usual sense. They don't sting or release toxins. But they can grow fast enough to grow right on top of their neighbors, smothering other corals.

  • Scientific Name: Pachyclavularia sp.
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Growth Rate: Aggressive
  • Recommended for: Beginners

3. Toadstool Leather Coral

Toadstool Leather Coral

It is easy to see how Toadstool Leather Coral gets its name. The large, fleshy polyp looks much like a thick mushroom cap. While they aren't very colorful corals, they are one of the easiest species to keep.

And did you know? Leather Corals are so hardy they don't even need feeding! Yup-they passively filter out organic molecules from the water over time.

Hence, these corals make good tank mates for fish which provide a steady source of food through their leftovers and waste.

Warning: Be careful when keeping Toadstool Leather Coral with other corals, though! They release a blend of toxic chemicals into the water that inhibits the growth of their neighbors.

If your power filter or canister filter has activated carbon inside, it will remove these terpene compounds. Make sure you don't slack on maintaining it.

  • Scientific Name: Sarcophyton glaucum
  • Origin: Indian Ocean
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Recommended for: Beginners

4. Mushroom Coral

Mushroom Coral

Mushroom Corals (or corallimorphs) are excellent choices for beginners because they actively seek out disturbed areas in the wild. After a disaster, they are often the first corals to colonize the new area.

One thing Mushroom Coral does is to move! They are speedy corals and will wander around the tank, seeking the best water flow and access to food.

As rugged survivors, they tolerate swings in salinity, nutrients, and minerals that would stress or kill more sensitive species. Any beginner still learning how to balance the water parameters of their saltwater aquarium should start with corallimorphs!

Some species of Mushroom Coral will sting their neighbors, making their wandering a little annoying. But most are peaceful and keep to themselves. Their stubby tentacles also make it hard for them to act aggressively.

  • Scientific Name: family Corallimorpharia
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Recommended for: Beginners due to their hardiness and ease of care

5. Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia Coral is a favorite for marine aquarium setups around the world. Even corals have an alien appearance.

Each soft stalk ends in a head with several feathery protrusions. The “feathers” waft slowly, directing water flow around and through the colony.

Note: Pulsing Xenias are another soft coral that does not eat. They filter tiny particles of matter and dissolved organic molecules from the water. Therefore, they do poorly in very clean tanks but will explode in growth if kept in organic-rich water.

They don't sting but like the Green Star Polyp, Pulsing Xenia may end up overwhelming everything else in your saltwater aquarium. So keep trimming it back if it ends up becoming a menace. Or use a protein skimmer on top of your filter to cut back on suspended coral foods.

  • Scientific Name: Xenia sp.
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Non-aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Aggressive
  • Recommended for: Beginners

6. Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya Tree Coral

The last beginner soft coral on our list is a little more difficult to add to a coral community. The Kenya Tree Coral is a very aggressive type that will sting rivals and also release toxins into the water. However, it is an excellent species to try if you keep it alone.

Kenya Tree Corals will grow very fast, especially if kept in a tank with fish to provide a steady stream of organic matter. Clownfish will also host this particular species if there are no sea anemones around to live in.

They don't have bright colors or elegant stony skeletons like LPS corals. But hey, what Kenya Tree Corals lack in flashy colors and intricate skeletons, they more than makeup for with their speedy growth and easy-going nature when it comes to water conditions.

Perfect for beginners dipping their toes into reef keeping!

  • Scientific Name: Capnella sp.
  • Origin: Indian Ocean
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Recommended for: Beginners to Intermediate

The 6 Best Hard Corals for Beginners

Hard corals earn their name from the solid, limestone skeletons they construct from calcium carbonate.

These skeletons form the foundation of coral reefs, building up over the years as corals grow and die, leaving their hard structures behind. The term "hard" differentiates them from soft corals, which lack this rigid skeleton.

Now, when we talk about hard corals, we're generally referring to two types: SPS, or Small Polyp Stony corals, and LPS, or Large Polyp Stony corals.

LPS are like the chill, laid-back corals with big, flowy tentacles. They're a bit tougher and can handle some ups and downs in the tank.

Then you've got your SPS corals, the high-maintenance ones. They're all about building complex, artsy structures but need everything just right: clean water, spot-on light, and the perfect flow. They're for reefers who really want to flex their skills.

1. Bubble Coral

Bubble Coral

Bubble corals are great beginner LPS corals for several reasons. For one, they are a good choice for saltwater reef tanks with moderate lighting.

Bubble coral depends more on feeding than light, unlike photosynthetic corals. So even if your lighting is not very intense, you can feed bubble coral brine shrimp and other bits of food.

Moderate to high current is important for a bubble coral. Good water flow removes debris and excess mucus from their folds of flesh.

Unfortunately, they are a more aggressive stony coral. The reach of a bubble coral is deceptive since they inflate at night. They also extend long sweeper tentacles that reach up to 6 inches past the coral, possibly stinging any neighbors that are too close.

  • Scientific Name: Plerogyra sp.
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Recommended for: Beginners to Intermediate

2. Lobed Brain Coral

Lobed Brain Coral

Lobed Brain Coral is another LPS coral and is ideal for sections of a reef tank where the water flow is gentle. Unlike bubble coral, too much current disturbs them, causing the coral to retract into its skeleton.

Moderate lighting is best for these hardy corals. Much more than 100 PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) can cause burns or retracting.

While they are photosynthetic, Lobed Brain Coral also enjoys eating whole foods like chopped mysis shrimp.

Pro Tip: It is best to feed at night when keeping corals with fish. Otherwise, saltwater aquarium fish may pick the food right out of their mouths.

  • Scientific Name: Lobophyllia sp.
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Recommended for: Beginners to Intermediate

3. Candy Cane Corals

Candy Cane Corals

Candy Cane Corals, also known as Trumpet Coral, are another LPS coral variety that is great for beginners. They will sting neighbors that are touching them, but don't fret! Their sweeper tentacles barely reach an inch past their flesh at night.

They are often considered to be one of the more bulletproof corals. Compared to other stony coral varieties, Candy Cane Coral are not too sensitive when it comes to changes in water parameters.

These species also fluoresce a beautiful neon green when placed under actinic lighting. Trumpet Corals are also one of the faster growing large polyp stony corals, making it easier to fill in a new reef tank.

  • Scientific Name: Caulastrea sp.
  • Origin: Pacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Recommended for: Beginners

4. Acan Lord Coral

Acan Lord Coral

Large polyp stony (LPS) coral have a reputation for being difficult to care for, but the Acan Coral is a good species to start out with.

Acans are brightly colored, usually having two bands of color at the same time. How bright the light is as well as the type of lighting strongly affects their colors. They also do well in low to moderate lighting conditions.

Acan Lords are an aggressive species. But fortunately, they have a limited ability to reach other corals.

Acans will spit out their digestive organs to dissolve neighbors that touch them. They also have sweeper tentacles but will only sting neighbors that are within an inch of the coral.

  • Scientific Name: Micromussa (Acanthastrea) lordhowensis
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Recommended for: Beginners

5. Hammer Coral

Hammer Coral

Hammer corals, hailing from the family of Euphyllia corals, are yet another captivating LPS coral variety that is relatively easy to care for.

To thrive, they often demand stable reef conditions—but they favor moderate lighting and water flow. You'll often find them perched lower in the aquatic scene to meet these needs.

It's a rare tank that doesn't boast one of these beauties. With their distinctive, hammer-shaped polyps that sway rhythmically in the water current, these corals glow with vivid fluorescence under actinic lighting.

However, these corals are pretty territorial – they've got long sweeper tentacles that they use to keep other corals at bay. Make sure to give them plenty of space in your tank so they don't start a scuffle with their tank mates.

  • Scientific Name: Euphyllia ancora
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Recommended for: Beginners to Intermediate

6. Bali Green Slimer

Bali Green Slimer

Acropora are a group of unique corals with stony skeletons and small polyps (SPS corals). Most SPS corals are on the difficult side of care as they need intense lighting, strong water flow, and perfect water conditions.

But there's always an exception to the rule, right? The Bali Green Slimer is that exception.

They were one of the first Acropora to enter the trade. Until technology improved over the years, every other species was considered impossible to keep in a reef tank.

They are called “Green Slimers” because of their main defense: if disturbed they secrete a thick layer of mucus to entangle their attacker.

It can also gum up saltwater aquarium equipment and tank mates. So leave these corals undisturbed once you've found a place for your new SPS coral.

Bali Green Slimers also grow fairly quickly. But like other Acropora corals, they do need medium to high light and good water flow.

  • Scientific Name: Acropora yongei
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Recommended for: Intermediate


Live corals are in many ways the epitome of the saltwater aquarium hobby. They take dedication to maintaining proper water conditions. Any sudden shifts in temperature or chemistry, and you'd find your corals in distress.

Lucky for you, all the corals we've talked about are much hardier and not as picky as your typical reef dwellers. They're good with different kinds of coral foods and are tolerant of the shifting water parameters that beginner setups often struggle with.

Just make sure that you're aware of which species can coexist and you'll have no trouble!

Only have a freshwater tank? Make sure to read our guide on the Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners!

Have more questions?

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