A List of the Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners, From Popular Community Fish to Unique Tropical Fish

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When it’s time to get some new fish for the fish tank – whether you’re a brand-new fish keeper or a long-time aquarist – it can be difficult to decide which critters to purchase for your tank.

If you’re starting out and just want a single fish for your small freshwater fish tank or looking for a miniature school for the kids to enjoy, there are too many choices to dive through just be researching each one individually.

Since we love fish, and we want fellow aquarists to have a healthy, happy tank of compatible aquatic life, we’ve created a list of sixteen of the best freshwater aquarium fish you can keep in your home or office aquarium.

The Most Popular Species

#1. Betta Fish

multiple colorful betta freshwater fish
PersonalityMales are aggressive
Tank sizeSmall to Medium (shallow is best)
ColorsVaries, quite colorful
TypeTropical
Compatible withOne male per aquarium, may be housed with small, non-colorful, peaceful fish

Betta fish are one of the most popular and prettiest freshwater fish for aquariums. Between their vibrant colors – so many options! – to their intensive energy and unique personalities, betta are fun but easy to care for fish.

Male bettas are infamously aggressive towards other males – they’re called Siamese Fighting Fish for a reason – so it’s important to keep them in a separate tank from other males.

And if you have more than one male, their tanks should not be kept within sight of each other as the aggression will still be present.

Where to Buy Betta Fish

You can purchase Betta from a lot of places online, but for convenience and choice, we recommend Amazon.  

You can also check out PetcoRena’s Fish StoreAquarium Fish, or Betta Store.

Read our betta fish care guide here.

#2. Angelfish

Angelfish and schooling of tropical fish in planted tank
PersonalityEither/or
Tank sizeLarge
ColorsWide variations by species, many bright and colorful
TypeTropical
Compatible withSpecies dependent

Angelfish are a popular – perhaps the most popular tropical freshwater fish species – fish that are extremely docile and gentle.

They’re stunningly beautiful and intriguing but are one of the friendliest fish species as well.

If you watch an angelfish in the aquarium, you’re likely to have a tranquil, harmonious sensation sweep over you.

This is partly due to the gentleness of their nature but also has something to do with the unique movement of their fins as they swim.

Where to Buy Angelfish

Since Angelfish are one of the most popular tropical aquarium fish, you can find them on a number of sites. We recommend Amazon for the best service and selection, but you can also try Aquarium FishSomethings PhishyFreshwater Tropical Fish Online, or That Pet Place.

The Best Small and Medium Tank Fish

#3. Cherry Barb

cherry barb freshwater fish
PersonalityNon-aggressive
Tank sizeMedium
ColorsShades of red, pink, and orange
TypeTropical
Compatible withOther docile fish

Cherry barbs, unlike their larger cousins the Tiger Barbs, are a peaceful tropical community fish tank variety that gets along well with other non-aggressive fish.

They’re brightly colored and small and do well in tanks with lots of aquatic plants, since they’re a bit shy, especially at first.

They’re bright, energetic, and fun little fish that keep the whole tank active and interesting.

They’re especially entertaining with their dodging in and out of plants.

You should keep at least six Cherry Barbs in a tank together for the healthiest possible little fish.

Where to Buy Cherry Barbs

You can buy Cherry Barbs online via the iFish Store and Petsmart, or at All Pond SolutionsAquarium Fish, and Live Aquaria.

Read our cherry barb care guide here.

#4. Platies

yellow platy freshwater fish
PersonalityNon-aggressive
Tank sizeSmall
ColorsOrange, red, yellow, blue, white, or sunburst
TypeTropical, some cold water
Compatible withOther livebearer species

Platies are a fun, colorful freshwater fish are an easy-to-care-for species of small aquarium fish that can handle fluctuant water conditions.

They’re very peaceful and happily live with other species of non-aggressive fish. They’re easy-going and love just about any kind of food.

Their favorite varieties, however, are flake or freeze-dried and algae. So, they help clean up the tank, too, which isn’t such a bad reason to keep some on hand.

Platies are schooling fish but thrive in groups as small as five.

Since they’re small, they’re one of the best freshwater fish for 10-gallon aquariums.

Platies can happily live in cold water, but they will be more vibrant in warm water.

Where to Buy Platies

You can find a variety of Platy species online at Aquarium FishiFish StorePetco, or Your Fish Store.

#5. Danios

PersonalityNon-aggressive
Tank sizeSmall to Medium
ColorsVaries, bright and vibrant
TypeTropical, some cold water
Compatible withMany other species

Danios are a colorful, bright, and fun species of fish that come in a variety of options that aquarium keepers love.

Zebra danios, for example, are an extremely popular variety for their brilliant colors, high energy antics, friendly personality, and hardiness.

Danios do best in schools of six or more like species fish and like to hang out in the upper levels of the aquarium.

Where to Buy Danios

You can buy Zebra Danios and other varieties at Amazon, AquariumFish.netThe Pet PlacePetco, or Bluewater Aquariums.

Read our celestial pearl danio care guide here.

The Best Large Tank Species

#6. Cichlids

cichlid freshwater fish
PersonalityAggressive
Tank sizeLarge
ColorsVaries by species, very colorful
TypeTropical
Compatible withVaries by species

There are a variety of cichlids including African, dwarf, large river, and Central American species.

These species all tend to be aggressive – some described as “very aggressive” – towards other cichlids or other fish altogether.

Most cichlids are very colorful and interesting to watch, and they do well in groups of their own variety or home range, assuming the species aren’t too similar, as this may cause undesirable crossbreeding.

The different varieties require different water chemistry types, so if you choose more than one species, be sure to verify they can handle the same approximate chemistry.

Where to Buy Cichlids

You can purchase Cichlids at Amazon, Imperial TropicalsCichlid ExpressCichlids are Special, or Invertebrates by Msjinkzd.

Read our African cichlid care guide here, our convict cichlid care guide here, or our peacock cichlid care guide here.

#7. Pleco

bushynose catfish pleco freshwater fish
PersonalitySemi-aggressive
Tank sizeLarge
ColorsMuted colors, stripes
TypeTropical, some cold water
Compatible withOther species, but not compatible with each other

Plecos aren’t giant fish by any stretch, but they do require larger tanks with a minimum of 29-gallons, though they do best in 50-100 gallons or larger.

They’re super easy to take care of and generally peaceful fish. The males, however, grow more aggressive with time and should be kept in separate tanks from other plecos.

One of the most popular varieties of Pleco is the Bushynose Pleco, which comes in longfin, albino, or longfin albino types.

They’re hardy and bottom dwellers, which means they suck up the yuck at the bottom of the aquarium and get rid of algae.

Plecos enjoy hiding in caves and under logs, so providing such aquarium décor is recommended for their best happiness.

Where to Buy Pleco

You can find a variety of Pleco species on AmazonWorld Wide Fish and PetsAquarium FishYour Fish Store, or That Pet Place.

Read our bristlenose pleco care guide here.

#8. Rainbowfish

rainbowfish freshwater
PersonalityNon-aggressive if kept in suitable-size tanks
Tank sizeLarge schooling tanks
ColorsVaried, bright – colors enhance with age
TypeTropical
Compatible withMany other species

These iridescent little creatures of the deep – well, from rivers and lakes, anyway – are natives of Australia and Southeast Asia. They’re a peaceful schooling fish species that belong in large schooling tanks as they need to have other Rainbowfish around to thrive.

They’re not that exciting to look at when they’re really young, as their scales tend to be just a kind of shiny, silver-ish color that occasionally catch the light and spark away. As they age, however, their colors enhance and become more interesting and vibrant.

Rainbowfish create the best freshwater fish combinations with upper-level schooling fish like Danios, Bards, and larger species of Tetras.

Where to Buy Rainbowfish

You can find Rainbowfish for sale on Imperial TropicalsAquarium FishReal Aquatics, or Aqua Bids – if you’re up for a live auction.

The Most Unique Species

#9. Kuhli Loach

kuhli loach freshwater fish
PersonalityNon-aggressive
Tank sizeMedium
ColorsBrown and yellow bands
TypeTropical
Compatible withMany other species

These cool fish to own are an eel-like fish that are friendly and fascinating to watch.

Their body shape and bottom-feeding nature make them an unusual and fun choice for any beginner aquarist looking for something different from the goldfish and betta of the popular category.

But they’re still plentiful enough to find just about anywhere.

The Kuhli Loach – or Coolie as they’re called elsewhere in the world – originally come from Southeast Asia.

They’re peaceful freshwater creatures for aquariums and get along with just about any fish that won’t mistake them for food, adapt easily to water changes, and eat just about anything, including spare food dropped by other fish.

They especially like live foods such as brine shrimp and worms, though the bulk of their diet is typically fish pellets.

You should keep at least three Kuhli Loach at a time for their happiest life.

Where to Buy Kuhli Loach

You can purchase your own Kuhli Loach on AmazonLive AquariaAquarium FishPetsmart, or Arizona Aquatic Gardens.

Read our kuhli loach care guide here.

#10. Tiger Barbs

tiger barb freshwater fish
PersonalitySemi-aggressive
Tank sizeCommunity tanks
ColorsOrange/gold/silver, green, albino
TypeTropical
Compatible withOnly compatible when in a school

Tiger Barbs are a fairly easy to care for fish that grows to a maximum of 3-inches in length in adulthood. They’re great for community tanks or species specific tanks, but should always have at least five or six other Tiger Barbs around for their communal needs.

As some aquarists have written about, Tiger Barbs are a good replacement for the television if you want an aggressive show.

The solution to the issue of their personality is keeping them in schools with other Tiger Barbs so that they push their aggression towards each other instead of different species.

These guys are super fun to watch, but they are notorious for nipping the fins of more docile fish, so make sure you mix them in with others who can handle it.

And, keep in mind, the larger the school of Tiger Barbs, the less aggressive they are towards others.

Where to Buy Tiger Barbs

You can find Tiger Barbs for sale at Amazon, PetsmartAquarium FishAll Pond Solutions, or Live Aquaria.

#11. Corydoras

cory catfish freshwater
PersonalityPeaceful
Tank sizeLarge and community tanks
ColorsMuted colors
TypeSemi-tropical, some cold water
Compatible withMany other species

Corydoras – or Corydora Catfish or Cory Cats as they’re often called – are a semi-tropical species that work great in tropical tanks but also do fine in cooler temperature tanks.

They’re super easy to take care of and are active, but peaceful bottom dwellers.

These guys, like most catfish, help keep your tank clean while keeping things interesting with their unique look and tranquil but energetic – for bottom dweller – personalities.

They only grow to about 2.5-inches in length and live harmoniously with other fish. And since they’re aggressive eaters, they really will help keep your tank clean.

They go after leftover food, algae, and other things you don’t want around.

Cory Cats do best with at least three together, along with other fish.

Where to Buy Corydoras

You can find Corydoras for sale on a number of sites, including Amazon and Live Aquaria. Or, if you’re feeling lucky, you can go after some Cory Cats at live auctions on AquaBid.comAquarium FishBlue Water Aquarium, or Live Fish Direct.

Read our corydora care guide here.

The Best Cold-Water Fish

#12. Guppies

guppies freshwater fish
PersonalityPeaceful
Tank sizeSmall
ColorsVaries, colorful
TypeTropical, some cold water
Compatible withMany other species

Although guppies can be aggressive towards other males, almost all of that is for fun rather than actual fighting. This means guppies can be kept with other fish – including males with males – to add some fun, colorful show to your aquarium.

In fact, guppies are some of the best freshwater fish for beginners because they’re super easy to take care of, offer a wide range of beautiful colors, and like the most common and easy to find fish food: flakes.

Guppies are really hardy fish – able to go without food for a week, though we don’t recommend it! – and they’re crazy breeders.

If you bring home a tank with males and females, you’ll have little baby guppies soon.

Where to Buy Guppies

You can buy some colorful, happy guppies online via AmazonLive AquariaAquarium FishYour Fish Store, or The iFish Store.

Read our guppy care guide here.

#13. Goldfish

goldfish freshwater fish
PersonalitySemi-aggressive, varies by species
Tank sizeMedium
ColorsRanges from white to dark orange
TypeColdwater
Compatible withSome other species

Probably the most common/popular species of beginner fish – often considered the best pet fish – is the classic goldfish.

These sparky, sometimes sassy little fish can start off pretty small but grow up to 14-inches in the wild.

Many people keep them in small tanks, but they should be kept in aquariums no smaller than 20-gallons.

There are loads of varieties of goldfish that come with a wide range of shades of white, yellow, and orange with a variety of accent colors, including black, and come in different shapes and sizes.

They’re easy to care for but can become aggressive with specific other goldfish species and other fish types, so be sure to house them accordingly.

Where to Buy Goldfish

You can find goldfish just about anywhere in person, but an easy spot online is AmazonKoi to the WorldPure GoldfishBuy Goldfish Online, or King Koi Goldfish.

Read our comet goldfish care guide here.

The Best Warm Water Fish

#14. Gourami

pearl gourami freshwater fish
PersonalityAggressive
Tank sizeMedium
ColorsVaries widely, vibrant
TypeTropical
Compatible withMany other species

Gourami come in a wide range of colors due the wide range of sub-species.

They are tropical and need warm water but make for great pets because they’re not only attractive but they’re exceptionally easy-going and work well with most other fish species.

Gourami eat a wide range of foods, from plant based to meat-based, and love live food like shrimp, blood worms, and tubifex.

Where to Buy Gourami

You can find Gourami at Amazon and Aquarium Fish for a reasonable price, along with That Pet PlaceAll Pond Solutions, and The iFish Store.

Read our gourami care guide here.

#15. Swordtails

swordtail freshwater fish
PersonalityHighly aggressive
Tank sizeLarge
ColorsHighly variable, bright to mute
TypeBrackish
Compatible withSome other species, do not keep 2 males in one tank

Swordtail are cool freshwater fish that like cold-water and come in a range of bright colors that taper down to muted tones in the wilder varieties.

They’re super easy to take care of, but the males can be extremely aggressive towards other males. Be sure to keep them in separate tanks and to keep the tanks at a distance from each other to prevent aggression issues.

Swordtail are pretty and look semi-tropical, but they’re pretty low key and handle cold water well, since they’re naturally a brackish water species.

They’re communal fish, so they thrive in groups of five or more, as long as only one male is in the mix.

Where to Buy Swordtail

You can find swordtail at a variety of stores online, including at Your Fish StoreAquarium FishBlue Grass Aquatics, or Rainbow Water Shop.

#16. Neon Tetra

neon tetra freshwater fish
PersonalityNon-aggressive
Tank sizeSmall
ColorsRed and blue
TypeTropical
Compatible withMost other species

While other tetras are also incredibly popular – think black skirt tetra, for example – Neon Tetra are one of the most popular non-aggressive freshwater fish for a few specific reasons, one of them being their bright colors and another their easy-going personalities.

Tetras are extremely easy to care for, which makes them great for a beginner adult or child aquarist, and because they’re so small, they need only small aquariums, even for a school of them.

Tetras like to be kept in groups as they are freshwater community fish, but they also get along with other fish species as well.

Where to Buy Neon Tetras

You can find Neon Tetras available on a wide range of online sites, including Live AquariaPetcoAquarium Fish, or Rainbow Water Shop.

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