Fishkeeping is a popular activity in the US owing to a low-cost, low-maintenance requirement. While you can’t cuddle with fish like dogs or cats, they can be a source of tranquillity and calming beauty.
If this is your first-ever home aquarium and you’ve never kept fish before, this article will offer information to help you select the best freshwater aquarium fish combination.
We have put together a list of 30 popular freshwater fish that are ideal for both beginners and experienced fishkeepers alike.
Before we get down to the list, let’s analyze why freshwater fish are ideal for beginners new to fishkeeping.
What makes freshwater fish suitable for beginners?
No two fish species are alike, and each has its laundry list of care requirements to live a fulfilling life. You can’t just take some fish, throw them into a tank, and hope it thrives.
Depending on the species, it’s a little more complicated. But freshwater fish are slightly more friendly towards beginners because of the following reasons:
- Freshwater fish can survive and thrive in a broad range of conditions
- It makes them easy to provide round the year without procuring expensive heaters and other equipment
- They are generally peaceful and get along with others, so you can add more fish to the tank without buying a new one
- They will fit in most tanks
Without further ado, here’s our pick of the 30 best freshwater aquarium fish for beginners.
List of Most Popular Freshwater Fish for Beginners
1. Neon Tetra
The Neon Tetra originates from South America but has gained widespread popularity because of its vibrant, lively appearance and ease of maintenance. Its simple dietary needs and peaceful temperament make it an ideal starting point for fishkeepers—the Neon Tetra originated in 1934 in the Amazon jungles.
The Neon Tetra belongs to the Characidae family as a freshwater fish and Like by its stunning blue appearance with red stripes and lively temperament.
It is so popular that over 2 million are sold in the United States every month. Their population boom is because of excessive bleeding. One should keep these fish in schools of at least 15 members.
Fish that are smaller than this will feel threatened and experience elevated stress levels. More importantly, the Neon Tetra is a non-aggressive fish that makes an ideal addition to a community tank.
They will spend most of their time in the middle of the water column, which can be an entertaining spectacle for onlookers.
The Neon Tetra can live for around five years, which is a lot of time to get overly attached to them. They will usually live an additional three more years in the wild.
This lively and colorful fish can thrive in an extensive range of water conditions, which is one of the main reasons it is so popular worldwide.
The guppies are a mostly peaceful freshwater tropical fish that is native to South America. They come from the Poeciliidae family and bear a striking resemblance to the common Guppy (the Poecilia reticulate).
Did you know there are over 300 subspecies of guppies? They come in various colors, shapes, and tail shapes (which is their main draw). Some breeders often refer to the guppies as “The Millions Fish” because of their unusually high breeding rate. Fishkeepers will refer to them as “The Rainbow Fish,” an apt name owing to their dazzling appearance.
The guppies are peace-loving fish that prefer to be kept in groups. They’re always swimming around and mostly on the go. The males try to impress the females by showing off their fins.
The guppies are relatively easy to maintain and cheap—because their population is always on the rise. The fish’s tank requirements depend on what you ultimately want to do with the fish. Do you want to breed them or take care of the select few you have?
Regardless of your goals, a tank must be cleaned every week and regularly change 25% of the water. As a general rule, it is good to provide each GuppyGuppy with 2 gallons of water. So you can keep 10 in a 20-gallon tank. If you want to breed them, make sure to keep the males and females at a ratio of 2 to 1.
This lively fish is native to South America and has earned several nicknames, including Peacock Cichlid, Walnut Cichlid, and Velvet Cichlid.
The Oscar is a comparatively large fish that can reach up to 12 to 16 inches and prefer to keep temperatures between 74 and 88°. Aim to keep the temperature at 77 to improve your Oscar’s quality of life.
They have long oval bodies covered in irregular black and orange patterns that may change over time.
The general maintenance requirements for the Oscar make them less suited to beginners. You have to make the temperature doesn’t dip or increase beyond the range specified above, for starters.
If you live in colder environments, you will need an aquarium heater and a thermometer to track the conditions. You also need to provide them with large aquariums because the Oscars love to explore.
If the temperature is kept too warm, your Oscar may start to suffocate due to oxygen deprivation, which can cause heart damage, nerve damage, and seriously upset its immune system. Too cool, and it will affect its immune system, making it susceptible to a range of diseases.
Oscar is a beautiful creature that deserves to live in a healthy environment. Ensure the tank or aquarium has plenty of hiding spaces and varied foods and should live for a long enough time. The best part about the Oscar is that they live for 8 to 12 years, depending on their living conditions.
Native to Americans, the Mollies are freshwater fish that belong to the Poecilia genus in the Poeciliidae family. There are over 40 species in this genus, of which 39 are mollies. Like the guppies, mollies are livebearers, which means they keep their eggs inside their bodies. There isn’t much in the way of maintenance and care, which is relatively straightforward.
They can live for up to 5 years if kept in a supportive environment. Common varieties of mollies can be found for as little as $2 to $6, although rarer species may cost a bit more. In terms of behavior, mollies are mostly peaceful but could become aggressive if surrounded by aggressive tank mates. For this reason, make sure their tank is big enough.
Mollies come in a variety of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes. They mostly have flattened bodies. They are tall in the middle and narrow towards their mouth. At the tail end is the caudal fin, a large fan that can be either colorful or transparent.
Mollies are relatively easy to breed and don’t require much prodding. When pregnant, female mollies could grow to a size of 4.5 inches. By comparison, males only grow to 3 inches in length.
5. Zebra Danios
They were also known as the Striped Danio or even Zebrafish, this freshwater fish known for its unique appearance. Most of them have been genetically modified and selectively bred to change their appearance. Zebra Danios are a social species and don’t have much in requirements, making them ideal for beginners.
They can be found in different color variations and sizes, adding diversity to your tank. Male fish are slimmer than their rounder, fuller bodies female counterparts.
Moreover, there seems to be some form of sexual dimorphism between males and females. The males sport a more dominant orange appearance, while the females have a silvery-white coloration that closely resembles zebras’ appearance.
They will live for 3 to 6 years if we take proper care. Make sure to provide the tank with at least 10 gallons of fresh water with plenty of plants. The Zebra Danio costs only $2 per fish, and one should purchase in pairs.
They are incredibly social creatures known for establishing a hierarchical system of dominance through non-aggressive behavior.
Make sure to buy them in groups since they are a social species. A single Zebra Danio on its own will feel lonely and experience elevated stress levels, which can easily lead to illnesses. If your Zebra Danio prefers to spend time hidden away, then something’s wrong.
If you’re new to fishkeeping and can’t tell heads or tails of the hobby, then the Platies are for you. They are easy to care for, peaceful and thrive in a community setting.
Their exotic appearance will animate your tank and dazzle onlookers. There are various hybrids and breeds within their species with too high color variability.
The platyfish, like the mollies, belongs to the Xiphophorus genus. The platyfish has three main sub-species: the southern platy, the variable platy, and the swordtail platy. Nowadays, the three interbred to mix fin shape and color. Among the three species, the swordtail is relatively rarer.
While all plates are exceptionally resistant to disease and can thrive in a range of conditions, they have a short life span of about three years. But if you properly take care of them, they could for five years.
They are not schooling or shoaling fish. The platyfish are reportedly much happier when kept in a small group.
Rainbowfish are native to Southeast Asia and Australia. They can grow to a size of 6 inches and are mostly peaceful.
The rainbowfish sports a unique appearance, with the mature fish sporting more vibrant colors than their female or younger counterparts.
There are two main groups of rainbowfish. The first group contains the families Bedotiidae and Melanotaeniidae, which include larger fish like the Glossolepis and the Melanotaenia. The second group consists of the families Telmatherinidae and Psudomugilidae, mainly containing smaller, docile fish.
Their diet consists of flaked pellets or live food. Make sure not to feed them anything that is not compatible with their nutritional requirements. Depending on their size and species, fishkeepers should provide them with small amounts at least 2 to 3 times a day.
If it takes the fish more than 3 to 5 minutes to eat all their food, you’re feeding them too much.
Should partially change water volume changed based on 10 to 25% of the total volume every few weeks or as needed.
8. Corydoras Catfish
Cory Catfish, also known as the Corydoras Catfish or Cory Fish, is exceptionally popular in pet stores.
The plates on their bodies give an appearance of an ‘armor,’ which resembles bone running through their bodies’ length. The Corydoras Catfish vary in size and color, but the Bronze Cory Catfish is arguably the most common.
Regardless of their type, most Catfish types are easy to care for, making them ideal for beginner hobbyists. The Cory Catfish is primarily active, alert, and continually moving around the tank. Before purchasing them from the pet store, make sure that the fish has its eyes and that its tail and fins are not damaged.
Despite the so-called armor on their bodies, the Corydoras Catfish is a calm and peaceful fish known for its non-aggressive temperament.
You’ll notice they are timider around other fish. Although they prefer to move around their tank, they are known for peacefully resting entirely still in the same spot for several hours. Don’t try to flip them over to check for signs of life! They’re doing okay and should become more active during the daytime hours.
While the Cory catfish will live alone, they seem to be much happier in two or more groups. Two cory catfish of the same species will often stick close to each other as they go about their daily routine, especially when it’s feeding time.
As their name suggests, goldfish have iconic orange spots, but some are known to sport black or olive-green spots. The goldfish often has a more rounded shape that bears an uncanny resemblance to an egg. Although the goldfish was the first pet adopted by humans, it isn’t ideal for beginners. It requires specific care and equipment requirements.
For instance, if the aquarium is too small, it will quickly kill your goldfish. You’ll need a huge tank that can accommodate at least 30 US gallons of fresh water, for starters. Also, you will need an additional 15 gallons of water for each extra goldfish. Most single-tail goldfish prefer to live in ponds or huge tanks since they can grow up to 12 inches or more in length.
As a general rule, do not get single tails unless you can provide at least 180 gallons of water. Make sure to partially change at least 15% of the water’s volume every week.
The goldfish’s temperature should never rise above 74°, so make sure to install a thermometer. If the temperature exceeds 74°, it will result in oxygen deprivation, which can cause all kinds of debilitating diseases for your goldfish.
Angelfish belong to the Pterophyllum scalare family, which includes Parrot, Oscars, and Discus fish. They are hardy fish that can grow up to 8 inches tall and 6 inches in length.
Also, they come in a variety of colors and patterns. Being omnivorous fish, they require a well-balanced diet of plants and meats. They are freshwater fish and can be relatively easy to keep.
In an ideal aquarium, the angelfish require little maintenance other than regularly changing water, healthy feeding, and keeping the temperature ranges under check. Perhaps more importantly, they quickly breed in home aquariums and don’t need much encouragement.
Being oversized and broad fish, they are not very active swimmers. Do keep in mind that these little guys can get pretty violent and territorial, defying their name, as they prey on fish that are smaller in size.
They will add a ton of flair and grace to your aquarium with their vibrant appearance. The younger angelfish tend to stay in small groups and tend to form couples as they mature.
Because of their aggressive nature, please do not keep them with smaller fish that can fit in their mouth.
Gifted with gorgeous color and a bright appearance, the Bettas can grow to a length of 3 inches and live for as long as three years. However, they are mostly peaceful in communities; however, making sure to keep one male or female betta in an aquarium.
Be prepared to remove the betta fish if they show any signs of aggression towards other fish. One unique trait of the bettas is that they would often take the surface to inhale a gulp of air.
The general requirements of a tank for the bettas are straightforward: for a single beta, you should need a tank with a minimum of 3 gallons. However, if you plan to add lots of fish to the tank, you’ll need a bigger tank. As a general rule, the aquarium should have at least 1 gallon of water for every 1 inch of 1″ of fish.
Keep the tank away from drafts, direct sunlight, and any place with a high-traffic area. Make sure the water is between 74 to 83° Fahrenheit. If you live in colder environments, you’ll need a heater that can provide enough water to heat the water. To heat the water.
12. Flowerhorn Cichlid
Flowerhorn Cichlids are usually more interactive than your average freshwater fish. It is because they respond to their human owners. Some of them are known as foreheads (nuchal humps). Their genetic history is unknown but greatly varies with each species.
Flowerhorn cichlids can be rather aggressive to other species in terms of temperament, but some fish are known to coexist with Flowerhorns peacefully.
But Flowerhorns will display hostile behavior to anything that seems to ‘invade’ their territory – an action that some liken to overly defensive dogs to their owners. If your Flowerhorn spends the bulk of its time chasing around other species, it’s going to get too stressed – so choose its tank mates wisely, or not at all.
Their expected lifespan is only around five years, with the longer body variations living for about 12 years. They can grow up to 16 inches, while others would stay at around 8 inches only.
Each Flowerhorn requires 125 gallons, although some of the more minor strains can live in under 90 gallons. More is always greater. Keep the flow at moderate because a high flow could push the Flowerhorn all around the tank.
There are several subspecies of killifish, each being versatile in its behavior and appearance. Some are easy for beginners, others not so much. They all have one thing in common: They’re stunning thanks to well-arranged patterns on their bodies.
Most species are relatively easy to take care of, although they do have the affinity to jump around, so make sure your tank is well-lidded for their protection.
The males get a little aggressive, particularly during the breeding season, but for the most part, there isn’t much in the way of maintenance.
They grow to a size of 3 inches and will live for about one year. Make sure the tank can hold at least 20 gallons of fresh water.
14. Green Spotted Pufferfish
Native to the brackish waters in Asian coastal regions, the green spotted pufferfish is a powerful, thick fish that requires lots of space. Despite only growing to a length of around 6 inches in size, they need a minimum tank size of 30 gallons.
Their appearance has an uncanny resemblance to frogs and leopards. If you hid part of part pufferfish with the back exposed, you could confuse it with a real frog.
The black spots on the green (slightly yellow-hued) back strongly contrast the white abdomen. Its shape is unique, with a face that resembles a pug dog, huge dominant eyes, and a frog’s appearance – all of which are reasons for keeping it as a pet. It is worth mentioning that the fish will recognize its owner and try to react as soon as it sees a familiar face approach closer to the tank.
The green spotted puffer does not have pelvic fins and instead uses its pectoral fins to move around. It can swim with tremendous energy going forwards or backward.
They are known to bloat up in size, with their spines protruding outwards to warn anything it perceives as a threat. The GSP has poisonous flesh in its substance that can kill any predator that tries to eat it.
They could eat all day long if you allow them to and would happily munch on all kinds of meat and snail. Ensure the temperature is kept at 80° Fahrenheit if you want it to live for as long as ten years.
15. Kuhli Loach
Originally from Southeast Asia, the Kuhli Loach is an eel-like fish highly regarded among aquarium enthusiasts for its hardy size and resistance to outside changes. Not to mention the fact that the Kuhli is peaceful and goes along with its tank mates.
Known as a ‘bottom feeder,’ which means it will eat anything that settles into the tank’s bottom, including worms and shrimp.
Although the bulk of their diet comes from general fish pellets, they live best in groups of 3 and are known for peacefully coexisting with other non-aggressive species. Just make sure not to pair them with giant fish.
16. Cherry Barb
These stubborn species may take a little time to settle into their new habitats, but the Cherry Barbs make for an ideal freshwater fish once they do.
They can live in all kinds of water parameters and are friendly to other species. Because they only reach a maximum length of 2 inches, they are easy to care for.
It is worth noting that the Cherry Barb is considered endangered in the wild, which makes them a little rare among fish hobbyists.
It is highly recommended to keep the Cherry Barbs in a tank with some live plants, where they can hide whenever they feel like it. It may take a while for your Cherry Barb to feel secure enough to come out of hiding.
They probably won’t eat during the first few weeks, but you can give them just about any food once they feel comfortable enough.
17. Pearl Gourami
Sometimes referred to as the Lace Gourami, this tropical freshwater fish is prevalent among fish hobbyists owing to its robust build and mesmerizing appearance.
For the most part, they are easy to care for by beginners. However, they require at least 30 gallons of water. Make sure the tank has some space at the top because they often surface to breathe air.
They prefer to eat a variety of foods, including vegetables and meats. For balanced nutrition, make sure to provide them with algae-based flake food and live food such as blood worms and tubifex.
Pearl Gourami are rather shy, preferring to hide in the presence of other fish. Being extremely docile, they do not live well with aggressive species. Make sure to install a small place to hide in the tank. We recommend installing a slight covering of flaking ferns to give them a comfortable place to hide.
As the name suggests, the Swordtails is a rather tough fish often regarded as a beginner-only fish by experts. It doesn’t have very complex requirements and can live in extremely versatile conditions.
The Swordtails is a bright-colored fish that gets its name from the long bottom fin that strongly resembles a sword. They are community fish and prefer to live in groups of at least 5 for best results.
It is common for males to show some aggression in their efforts to look more dominant.
You’ll see them posturing their erected fins as they circle each, often performing mouth-to-mouth grapple attacks. They were omnivores. Swordtails prefer a diet of flake food to supplement with live food and vegetables.
19. Rainbow Shark
They come from the warm flowing rivers of Southeast Asia and are affectionately known as “Rainbow Sharks” because of the shark-like dorsal fin on top of their bodies. Rainbow sharks belong to the Cyprinidae family, the same as Minnows. Their population has dwindled over the years due to human-made changes such as extensive damming.
Rainbow sharks have red fins that may take an orange color. The fins can consist of more than ten branched rays while their tail fin is forked. Their fins strongly contrast against their black or grey bodies, which are long and slender. Males tend to be brighter than females.
Although they only grow to around 6 inches, Rainbow sharks are incredibly active in their tanks and need at least 50 gallons of space. If the tank is too small, it will cause them to get aggressive and territorial.
They are known for being very social creatures. The Discus belongs to the Cichlidae family.
And is known as the ‘king’ of freshwater aquariums because of its colorful bodies.
Discus are known for growing immensely more significant and require at least 50 gallons to live comfortably. A fully grown Discus needs about 75 gallons of space to accommodate its unique body shape.
The rule of thumb for Discus is a lot more simple: a 100-gallon tank can keep only ten full-sized Discus. Discus are not ideal for beginners and can be challenging to control, especially when captured in the wild. They don’t have robust immune systems making them vulnerable to pathogens and disease outbreaks.
21. Dwarf Gourami
The brightly colored dwarf gourami is a mostly shy, peaceful fish. If you have a pair of them together, they will swim together. Aquarists describe them as a ‘drop of paint’ in the tank, encompassing almost all rainbow colors. Having a group of dwarf gourami will make your aquarium stand out.
They grow to a sizable 5 inches long and live for up to 5 years but are known to live even longer. Careful though. You could get attached to them very soon. The Dwarf Gourami has a very varied diet and will eat just about anything.
They are readily available in pet stores at an affordable enough price.
22. Otocinclus Catfish
They’re known as the scavengers of freshwater aquariums. The Oculus Catfish goes by many names, including Algae Scrapers, Dwarf Suckers, and Dwarf Suckermouths – all these apt names allude to one thing scavenge algae and leftover food. Their primary diet consists of algae, which makes them extremely efficient at keeping the tank clean. But they will eat supplements such as green zucchini.
Their life span is a little under one year and may grow in size if you provide them with the right tank conditions. These guys prefer to live in well-established, mature, and stable tanks.
They will grow to a size of about 2 inches max and are very agile swimmers, having the ability to swim from one corner of the tank to another.
23. Convict Cichlid
The Convict Cichlid is a beautifully marked fish. They are sometimes called Black Convict Cichlid or Zebra Cichlid.
Their bodies have a greyish background with black stripes and a green hue on the fins. Female Convict Cichlids have orange scales on their dorsal fins and lower body.
Males don’t have colorful bodies and tend to be much more extensive with longer finds and a steeper forehead.
When males grow, you’ll notice a fatty lump on their foreheads, making them a unique addition to the aquarium. However, Convict Cichlids can be overly aggressive and don’t prefer to live in communities. They require at least 30 gallons to live.
Plecostomus or plecs are a variation of catfish. They have sucker-shaped mouths to consume algae in your aquarium. Their bodies are thickly armored with heavy plates.
Some species of the plecostomus will thrive on wafers, flakes, and algae, but others will need meaty foods such as shrimp. They can live for 20 years or longer if cared for correctly.
They are known for jumping out of their tanks, so make sure to keep the aquarium adequately secured with a lid.
Plecs can live in communities with other fish. Just keep them away from fat fish as they may suck on them. These fish are not ideal for beginners because of a never-ending list of requirements, including massive tanks.
25. Ember Tetra
Ember Tetra prefers to live in small rivers with slow-moving waters. They have grown in popularity over the years because of being active in the tank and sporting a fantastic body.
They can live for up to 2 years but only grow to less than 1 inch in size, making them vulnerable to larger predators. Their bodies are slightly elongated, and their eyes have an orange rim.
Their color varies from fiery red to an orange gradient, both too bright and will stand out. Because Tetra is so small, you only need about 10 gallons of fresh water for them. Make sure the tank has an abundance of plants to mimic their natural habitat.
26. Pea Puffer
Pea puffers get their name from their size: they’re not much larger than a pea. They also go by other names such as Malabar puffers, Pygmy puffers, and Indian puffers.
They are peaceful and prefer to live in communities – keep them away from aggressive fish. They are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), probably due to overfishing in India.
Pea puffers are known to carry deadly toxins. Some people like to eat them as a delicacy because a small amount of poison in their bodies can cause a pleasurable tingling in the lip and cause euphoric experiences.
They are not confused with Fugu (from the Takifugu and Sphoeroides genus), a type of pufferfish that is a food staple in Japan.
27. Jack Dempsey Fish
Jack Dempsey is a prevalent freshwater fish and has its natural habitat in Central America’s warmer and murkier waters. Hobbyists prize them for their unique appearance, with a base color of grey to brown and iridescent green and blue spots – all of this gives the Jack Dempsey fish a striking appearance. When they mate, their colors will intensify.
Jack Dempsey is a hardy fish and can live in a range of conditions. They have a very carnivorous diet and an attitude to match it. They can live for ten years and grow up to 15 inches in size.
They can be purchased from most pet stores for as little as $10, although rarer species can cost a lot more.
28. Bala Shark
Bala Sharks are relatively easy to provide, but you should know a few things about their tank setup.
They come from the fast-flowing streams of Southeast Asia in Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia. Locals have nicknamed them the ‘Gentle Giant’ because of their peaceful temperament. They will make an excellent addition to your tank but require experience.
They will grow to around 12 inches and live for ten years if given proper care. It is worth noting that they’re incredibly active and will try to jump out of the tank, keeping that tank lid secured in place.
They require large aquariums to the tune of 150 gallons or more. Keep the water at around 78° Fahrenheit and the pH between 6.5 to 7.9 for ideal conditions.
29. Nerite Snails
Hobbyists usually keep nerite snails because of their excellent tank cleaning abilities. They spend most of their time lurking around the aquarium, consuming algae as they go along. Nerite snails are easy to provide for and don’t have many demands once they’ve well-adjusted to your aquarium.
They grow less than 1 inch long and can be kept in smaller tanks. Their diet consists mainly of algae as a herbivorous species, and they will live for over a year. They are peaceful and slow-moving, which means they won’t create any disturbances in your tank and gradually tidy up the place from excess algae.
30. Oranda Goldfish
The Oranda Goldfish, better known as the Red Cap, belonged to the Cyprinidae family and was selectively bred to contain unique properties.
It’s unclear how they first came about, but most experts agree they originated in China and resulted from extensive crossbreeding. They are mostly peaceful and will live in communities with other passive fish.
Owing to their large size (about 1 foot or more) and active temperament, Oranda goldfish require a pretty big tank to live – or at least 30 gallons of water.
Their average lifespan is about 15 to 16 years, but they can live longer under the right tank conditions. The Oranda Goldfish will cost around $40 per fish. Make sure to buy bright, healthy, and active fish. Don’t buy one that has signs of disease.
Pick any of the above freshwater fish since they’re all excellent choices for freshwater aquariums. Make sure to do some further reading up on their care requirements to provide them with precisely what they need. Make sure to click on each fish for more details on how you can take care of them.
The best freshwater aquarium fish combination is where all the fish are similar and docile enough to get along.
Pro Tip: Before you add any fish to your tank, make sure the tank you clean the tank properly so that it’s a safe environment for your fish.