Biological invasions continue to increase around the world, with impacts on many coastal marine systems. Here we review the South African marine invasion literature which, despite the field being relatively new, has grown to have significant presence in both the local and international arenas. Of the 79 papers reviewed, 70% focused on the establishment and spread of alien species, with modes of transport and introduction largely overlooked. An emphasis was also apparent towards field studies, in particular survey work, with few experimental studies. The overwhelming majority of papers focused on a single species, the Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis, reflecting the scale of this invasion and the tractable nature of rocky shores as study systems. With the exception of this one species, the impacts of marine alien species have rarely been quantified. We suggest that future research extends the taxonomic coverage of present work and develops a better understanding of the mechanisms of introduction, establishment and spread of marine alien species. Through an experimental approach, the drivers of altered ecological patterns and processes resulting from invasions should be addressed, providing insight into associated impacts. This approach will maintain the local applicability and international relevance of South African marine invasion research.