Since first reported in 2005, mononuclear ruthenium water oxidation catalysts have attracted a great deal of attention due to their catalytic performance and synthetic flexibility. In particular, ligands coordinated to a Ru metal centre play an important role in the catalytic mechanisms, exhibiting significant impact on catalyst efficiency, stability and activity towards water oxidation. This review focuses on finding possible correlations between the ligand effects and activity of mononuclear Ru aqua and non-aqua complexes as water oxidation catalysts. The ligand effects highlighted in the text include the electronic nature of core ligands and their substituents, the trans–cis effect, steric hindrance and the strain effect, the net charge effect, the geometric arrangement of the aqua ligand and the supramolecular effects, e.g., hydrogen bonding and influence of a pendant base. The outcome is not always obvious at the present knowledge level. Deeper understanding of the ligand effects, based on new input data, is mandatory for further progress towards a rational development of novel catalysts featuring enhanced activity in water oxidation.