For a fish only tank, a HOB
filter or canister should be fine. Nitrates will be an issue in the long run but as long as you change your filters and have a clean bottom, it should be fine.
I ran a whisper and a Emperor 280 on the back of a 38 gal
for 6+ years. I had a CC
substrate that was 7+ years old and an under gravel filter. My fish were still kicking when I tore the tank down last year. I had a clown and a dog puffer that lived together for most of the time the tank was up. The clown is now in my reef tank.
I think HOB
filters and canisters might be old school but they can work. I have a 29 gal
using the emperor 280 right now. Just get something that will provide enough filtration.
just my .02