Top 25 Most Popular Freshwater Fish For Beginners

In total there are over 30,000 freshwater fish species.

Some of the most diverse fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants inhabit freshwater habitats.

Are you looking for some good stocking ideas for your freshwater aquarium?

Here is a list of the 25 most well-known freshwater fish to get you started.

You can keep these fish in a jungle paludarium, riverbed replicas, underwater gardens, and many other beautiful environments.

Freshwater Fish

Best Freshwater Fish

Fish Rank Color Lifespan
African Cichlids 13 Blue, yellow, black and white, red Species dependent
Angelfish 4 Silver, black, gold, marbled 10 years
Betta Fish 2 Blue, red, purple, yellow, black 3 years
Bristlenose Pleco 15 Black, grey, brown, golden 6 to 12 years
Cardinal Tetra 18 Blue and red 5 years
Clown Loach 17 Black and orange 10 years
Convict Cichlid 25 Black, blue, white (bandless), gold 8 to 10 years
Cory Catfish 9 Green, bronze, peppered, albino 5 years
Discus 7 Red, blue, black, orange, yellow 10 years
Dwarf Gourami 11 Blue, honey, flame 5 years
Goldfish 1 Gold, red, white, calico, black/moor 12 to 25 years
Guppies 6 Various 2 years
Harlequin Rasbora 22 Orange and black 8 years
Killifish 12 Blue, red, orange, yellow, gold, banded 2 to 5 years
Kuhli Loach 10 Yellow and black 10 years
Neon Tetra 5 Blue and red 8 years
Oscar 3 Orange, red, gold, albino, black 20 years
Otocinclus 14 Brown, black, white 5 years
Pearl Gourami 23 White speckles 5 years
Pictus Catfish 24 Black and white spots 8 years
Plecostomus 8 Brown and black speckles 15 years
Rainbow Shark 16 Black and red 8 years
Sparkling Gourami 20 Brown and blue 5 years
Tiger Barb 19 Gold and black, silver and black 7 years
Zebra Danio 21 Grey and blue, gold and blue, albino 5 years

25. African Cichlid

African Cichlid

South American cichlids are among the most popular tropical freshwater fish.

However did you know that there are other cichlid species that come from Africa?

Most of these colorful cichlids (Blue Mbuna, Bumblebee Cichlid and African Peacock) come from Lake Malawi. African cichlids are just as boisterous and territorial as any other Cichlid species. If you are keeping several species together then you need to make sure the tank is large enough for them to stay out of each other’s way.

Also you should never mix South American and African cichlids together.

While the water conditions are similar, African cichlids often carry diseases and parasites that affect South American species.

24. Angelfish

Angelfish

The freshwater Angelfish should not be confused with a marine Angelfish.

A freshwater Angelfish is actually a type of South American cichlid. They have a diamond shaped body and long, trailing fins. Because of this they are often called the King of the Aquarium.

Angelfish make a great introduction to the Cichlidae family as they are much more passive than other cichlid species. They also make good tank mates for other peaceful Cichlids such as the Discus and Dwarf Cichlid.

Unlike most other fish, these fish take care of their young. Both parents raise the fry for up to 2 months after they hatch.

If you are going to keep a freshwater Angelfish then you will need at least a 30 gallon tank.

23. Betta

Betta

The Betta is what most people think of when they think of a pet fish.

They are easily identified by their long trailing fins that look like a lady’s dress.

Unfortunately their popularity has led to poor fishkeeping practices. A Betta should never be kept in a bowl or a tiny novelty tank. They need at least a 10 gallon tabletop tank that is decorated with underwater plants.

You should also not keep more than one of these fish together.

One important thing to remember about the Betta is that it cannot breathe underwater as well as other fish. They need to come to the surface for air, so the surface of your tank should be kept clean too.

22. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

If you have ever seen a spotty catfish at the bottom of a Goldfish tank then it is likely you spotted a Bristlenose Pleco.

These fish are best known for their adorable nose bristles which develop when the fish reaches maturity. The males have much longer bristles which makes it easy to tell the two genders apart.

If your tank has an algae problem then a Bristlenose Pleco can help.

They will munch on any algae that they find and help to keep your tank clean.

Just remember they prefer a warm-temperate tank between 60-75°F, with large pebbles and cobbles for substrate.

21. Cardinal Tetra

Cardinal Tetra

Cardinal Tetras can add color to any aquarium.

These stunning little fish have icy blue lateral lines against a bright red base color.

A school of 6 to 8 of these fish adds a lovely accent to any biotope, especially when they are kept alongside other bright tetras. If you add in Rasboras and Zebra Danios then you will create the most colorful tank you will ever see.

These fish stand out in the very best way when they are paired with Java ferns and other low light plants.

In rare cases Cardinal Tetras will nip at fish with long fins. Keep this in mind if you are looking to add Gouramis to your tetra tank.

20. Clown Loach

Clown Loach

Sadly Clownfish are not freshwater fish, so the next best thing is the Clown Loach.

There are two different kinds of Clown Loaches from two different countries:

  • Sumatran Clown Loaches have bright red fins.
  • Borneo Clown Loaches have black fins.

Interestingly they have no scales on their head.

Ideal tank mates include Pleco catfish and other loaches, but they are also compatible with some of the more peaceful cichlids.

19. Convict Cichlid

Convict Cichlid

The Convict Cichlid is one the most aggressive South American Cichlids.

They are known for their black and white prison stripes.

You can find them in many different colors including blue and pink. Some of these occur naturally, while others are the result of genetic engineering.

These fish are one of the harder fish for first time fishkeepers to keep because their aggression can be hard to manage. Convicts are fiercely territorial, so there must be enough space in the tank for each one to establish their own personal territory.

You can keep these aggressive fish in a community with other cichlids that can defend themselves. Good examples include Firemouths, Green Terrors, and Jack Dempseys.

18. Cory Catfish

Cory Catfish

The Corydoras is one of the best catfish around for small tanks.

This shy little fish likes to hide near the bottom of the tank during the day. After sundown they will come out to feed.

You can find Corys in lots of different colors including: Panda, Green, Bronze and Peppered.

Since they only need a 10 gallon tank, they are often kept in community Nano tanks. Corys get along very well with tiny nano fish like Rasboras and Tetras. They do need a very clean tank so you should expect to perform a partial water change every week. Nitrates must also be monitored very carefully in a Cory tank.

Just note that certain species (Bronze Cory) can be venomous.

17. Discus

Discus

The Discus is one of the largest South American cichlids.

They are also the most peaceful too.

This colorful cichlid shares the title King of the Aquarium with the Angelfish.

Most cichlids behave aggressively to their own kind but the Discus is one of the few cichlids that actually travels in a group.

They are happy in a shoal of at least 5 others, so you will need at least a 55 gallon tank to accommodate them all.

Although they are very peaceful they are still difficult to keep. Discus are very sensitive to changes in water quality, and the water must be dechlorinated each time you perform a water change too.

Discus are not territorial but they can bully fish within their school for food and space.

You will need to make sure that every fish in the school gets enough food.

16. Dwarf Gourami

Dwarf Gourami

The Dwarf Gourami is a small but colorful fish.

This striking little fish comes in many different color forms but flame is the most popular.

If you are looking for a nano Gourami then the Dwarf Gourami is the fish for you. You can keep one in a tank as small as 10 gallons.

Dwarf Gouramis are surprisingly hardy and can handle water quality shifts very well. They thrive in a heavily planted tank with a temperature above 75°F.

If you want to create a colorful community tank then keep a pair of Dwarf Gourami with some Mollies, Pearl or Sparkling Gouramis. They also stand out beautifully in a single species tank.

15. Goldfish

Goldfish

Without a doubt the Goldfish is the number one most popular pet fish.

People have been keeping Goldfish since the 19th century and their popularity soared during the early 1900s.

Over the years specialized breeding have given way to all sorts of different Goldfish breeds and color forms. In addition to the Common Goldfish, you can get a Comet Goldfish, Oranda, Fantail, and many more.

Contrary to popular belief, they do not belong in a bowl, nor do they have short lifespans.

A single tailed Goldfish needs at least a 50 gallon aquarium. Many of the double tailed fancy varieties need 75 gallons or more.

Just remember they are temperate fish, so their maximum water temperature should not go above 72°F.

14. Guppy

Guppy

Guppies are beautifully colored nano fish that are also known as rainbowfish.

They come in many flashy color varieties and have wide caudal fins that look like Japanese fans.

Guppies are beginner friendly and make wonderful community fish – they should be kept in groups of 5 to 10.

Since they swim in the foreground of your tank, you will see them very often. They are very social and will interact with one another often.

You can keep them with Najas grass as this provides shelter, food, and breeding ground all at the same time. Other good plants for a Guppy include Java ferns, micro swords and Java moss.

13. Harlequin Rasbora

Harlequin Rasbora

Rasboras are tiny torpedo shaped fish.

The orange and black Harlequin Rasbora is one of the showiest.

Harlequins are easy to care for and are well suited for beginners. They prefer low light environments enriched with sphagnum moss and shady plants. Some of the best low light plants are Java ferns and Cryptocorynes.

These little fish are social and get along well with other small fish. They need to be in a group of at least 7 in order to feel comfortable.

12. Killifish

Killifish

When you think of Killifish you may be thinking of Mummichogs and other wild minnows.

These fish are often dull colored and used as feeder fish.

Aquarium Killifish are very different from these feeder minnows. Tropical Killifish are beautifully colored and there are lots of different species to choose from.

These fish prefer low light and need at least a 20 gallon tank filled with shady plants to hide in.

Blue and Red Lyretails are particularly popular Killifish.

11. Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach

The Kuhli Loach is one of the best loaches for smaller tanks.

This adorable tiger striped loach only reaches a length of 5 inches.

Just like the much larger Clown Loach, they have an orange body with thick black bars.

In the wild they live in groups of at least 6.

If you would like a loach for a nano tank then the Kuhli is the best loach for you. Also, because they will eat almost anything, they help to keep your aquarium clean.

10. Neon Tetra

Neon Tetra

Alongside the Cardinal Tetra, the Neon Tetra is one of the most popular beginner friendly nano fish.

They look just like Cardinal Tetras too with bright blue lateral lines and a red tail.

Just like other tetras, their color intensity is linked to their diet and the conditions of their tank. Your Tetras will look their best with a balanced diet of live prey and greenery.

They get along best with other Tetras, Rasboras and Cory catfish.

9. Oscar

Oscar

A single Oscar fish can dominate a whole tank.

The South American cichlid is as bold and boisterous as their colors.

Those orange and black Halloween colors can be very captivating but the decision to add this fish to your tank should not be taken lightly. Oscars are extremely aggressive fish that only experienced aquarists should attempt to keep in a community tank. If you are new to this species then a single species tank is the best way to go.

You can keep Oscars with other cichlids that can hold their own, such as Jack Dempseys and Convicts.

If you are keeping a single species tank then a 55 gallon tank works. However if you are going to keep a community then there must be enough space for the other fish to stay out of their way, so at least a 100 gallon fish tank is needed.

8. Otocinclus

Otocinclus

The Otocinclus is a small catfish that is also known as the Dwarf Sucker.

They are a great alternative to the Pleco if you do not have enough space for one. This freshwater fish fits in a 10 gallon aquarium and only grows to 2 inches in length.

Otocinclus are great fish for first time fish keepers.

Like most catfish, they are a bottom dweller. They need soft substrate that will not cut their fins, and plenty of rocks and plants to hide in.

As an added bonus they are excellent algae cleaners.

They will eat up any algae in your tank and stop it from accumulating and fouling up your tank.

7. Pearl Gourami

Pearl Gourami

This beautiful iridescent fish has a sparkling white pearl pattern.

In an aquarium full of small freshwater fish, they are often the showiest in the tank.

Pearl Gourami are medium sized Gouramis with peaceful personalities. They thrive in a water temperature of 77-82°F and a tank full of plenty of plants.

You can keep this fish with Crypts, Anubias, and other leafy plants that can handle being munched on.

Pearls do very well in community tanks but should not be kept with barbs or other rambunctious fin nippers.

6. Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish is an adorable grey and white spotted catfish with trailing barbels.

Their long barbels allow the fish to maneuver and hunt in murky waters.

This tiny fish has a surprisingly long lifespan – most Pictus Catfish live for at least 8 years.

Although they are small, they will stay in shoals of 5 so you will still need a larger tank to accommodate them. The best tank size for a group of Pictus is 120+ gallons.

When planning your community tank just remember that Pictus will eat smaller fish. Therefore they should be the smallest fish in your freshwater aquarium.

5. Plecostomus

Plecostomus

The Plecostomus is a suckermouth catfish from the same family as the Bristlenose.

They are easily identified by their thick speckled scales.

Tropical Plecos can have brightly colored spots, while those from temperate zones are often a dull grey or black.

Just like the Bristlenose they are often kept at the bottom of a Goldfish tank. Unfortunately this fish is not very fun to watch during the day. They are only active after dark, so they will not compete with Goldfish and other diurnal fish.

The Common Pleco and other large species can live in a garden pond alongside Koi fish. They can grow as long as 20 inches in a pond.

They do have a minimum water temperature of 70°F, so keep this in mind if you are keeping them with temperate fish.

4. Rainbow Shark

Rainbow Shark

Freshwater aquarium sharks are different from marine sharks.

Unlike predatory sharks in the ocean, this particular shark is actually a type of minnow.

Their vibrant red fins stand out against their black body.

The Rainbow Shark is only 6 inches long, but they are very aggressive to smaller fish. Because of this they need to be kept in at least a 125 gallon tank.

Keeping this fierce fish in a community tank is very risky, but they can live safely with larger gouramis and giant danios.

3. Sparkling Gourami

Sparkling Gourami

The Sparkling Gourami is one of the tiniest Gourami.

This dazzling little fish only grows to about 1.5 inches long.

Sparkling Gouramis are one of the most colorful fish that you can keep in a freshwater aquarium. They have neon blue spots and stripes that stand out against an orange and brown base color.

They are very hardy and can even handle anoxic environments. However they are easily spooked if the aquarium is in a noisy corner of the house.

Cories, tetras, and rasboras make the best tank mates for these little sparklers.

2. Tiger Barb

Tiger Barb

The Tiger Barb is a very active barb with a tiger stripe pattern. This is one of the more hyperactive species of barbs.

Tiger Barbs come in many different color forms including solid silver and albino. Most of the time they are silver with orange fins and black bands.

A group of 7 Tiger Barbs playing around can be very fun to watch but they can be a nuisance for some of your other fish. They are very well known for nipping and biting at the fins of long finned fish.

These rowdy little guys get along great with other barbs, clown loaches and bottom dwelling catfish.

1. Zebra Danio

Zebra Danio

The Zebra Danio is one of the very best freshwater community fish.

They make a great introduction into the world of tropical fish.

While you can get glow morphs, it is much better to get a naturally colored Danio.

Fortunately there are already plenty of colors to choose from including: gold, black and albino.

Zebra Danios shoal in groups of 5 or more and can live in temperatures as low as 64°F. They love hiding in underwater plants and complement other Danio species very well.

Which Freshwater Fish Should You Keep In Your Aquarium?

The freshwater fish mentioned above are only a fraction of the many different species you can keep in a freshwater tank.

With so many great fish to choose from, there is never a dull moment in the world of freshwater fishkeeping. Many freshwater fish and freshwater plants have just as spectacular colors as their saltwater cousins. They are also often more resilient than many marine species.

A diverse freshwater aquarium gives you your own personal window to the aquatic world.

We hope that this list of great fish has given you the inspiration you were looking for. Which fish do you keep in your best freshwater tank?

Let us know in the comments section below…

About David Thomas

David Thomas David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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