Last Updated on February 12, 2023 by Jakob
Have you decided to get yourself a brand new aquarium? Or have you decided it is time to liven up your tank with a few new fish? Then hopefully this list of some of the best freshwater aquarium fish you can get will give you some ideas.
What kind of fish you go for will depend on what size tank you have, what plants you have, and what kind of fish you want! Also read our aquarium advice article on things not to do when you buy a new fish, so your new best freshwater aquarium fish are kept happy and healthy.
It can get a little confusing and you can get bogged down in the amount of fish species out there, but each fish is special and has their own unique personalities, so try not to get too stressed!
This article lists the best freshwater aquarium fish that will look amazing in your fish tank, and give it life and personality. They are all easy to keep as well, so don’t worry if you aren’t an expert aquarist…yet!
IN THIS ARTICLE
16 Best Freshwater Aquarium Fish
16 Best Freshwater Aquarium Fish
1. Zebra Danio
The Zebra Danio, or just Zebrafish is a common and very popular freshwater fish. It is native to freshwater streams and ponds in South Asia.
They are small fish growing to between 2 and 3 inches as adults. They are very easy and simple to care for, and so are perfect freshwater fish for beginner aquarists.
They have a distinct striped coloration, hence the name! This color shimmering in your tank as the fish swims back and forth adds a splash of color and dazzle to any aquarium.
In their natural habitat they are found in a wide range of environmental conditions, but they tend to prefer a light water flow in a tank of 65 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, with soft to medium hard water and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. They are very hardy and can thrive in basically any freshwater aquarium.
They are shoaling fish so need to be kept in groups of at least 5 to remain healthy. They can be kept in tanks as small as 5 gallons, but they prefer the company of other fish and having the space to swim, so tanks of 10 gallons are recommended.
2. Black Molly
This fish has been bred to be born with a condition called melanism, which is the opposite is albinism. Basically they have too much pigmentation so are completely black!
Black Mollies are an incredibly popular breed of freshwater fish as they are peaceful and cohabit well with other species. Their black coloration makes them a great looking fish around the tank.
The males get to around 3 inches, with the females getting a little but larger. You should try and allow one male to three females, as males can be aggressive towards each other and can harass the females when breeding, so it’s good to have at least three to split their attention.
As Black Mollies love having lots of space to swim you should keep them in a minimum of a 20 gallon tank. The temperature should be between 70 and 80 °F and the pH from 7.5-8.2.
Molly fish are live breeders and are incredibly easy to breed. It’s amazing watching the little ones grow, and kids especially are transfixed by it!
3. White Cloud Mountain Minnow
White Clouds are small colorful shoaling fish. They add a bright flash of color to any aquarium, and are suitable for beginners.
They aren’t aggressive and are ideal tankmates for most other species of freshwater fish.
They are tiny fish, reaching a size of around an inch and a half in length. The males are slimmer and more colorful than the females. They are seen around the top half of the tank, rarely going into the bottom half.
They should be kept in schools of at least 6. If they are kept with fewer individuals they lose color and become sickly.
Ideally they should be kept in an aquarium of at least 10 gallons, with a temperature of 60°F, a pH of 6.0 to 8.0 and a hardness of 5 to 19 dGH.
4. Bloodfin Tetra
A very hardy and easy to care for fish that is perfect for beginners in a new freshwater aquarium.
They are loved for their amazing coloration. They are beautiful without being outrageous. They have silvery greenish bodies with red fins, which is where they get their name.
They get to be around two inches long as adults, and as they are quite tough usually live around 7 years.
They prefer the temperature to be between 70 and 80°F, with a pH of between 6 and 8.
They are a shoaling fish so need to be kept in a school of at least 6. They are fast and dart about the tank, causing a flash of color in your freshwater aquarium.
5. Platy Fish
Platy fish are in the Poeciliidae family along with Mollies, Guppies, and Swordtails. Like their cousins they are hardy fish and easy to care for, making them perfect for beginner aquarists.
Platy fish is a broad name that overarches three species; the Southern Platy, the Variable Platy, and the Swordtail Platy. The Southern and Variable Platy are commonly found for sale, but the Swordtail is hard to find.
They grow to around 3 inches in length, and live between 3 and 5 years in captivity. They like dense vegetation and need a minimum tank of 10 gallons and they are very active fish.
They are very peaceful fish and not at all aggressive. Whilst they aren’t considered schooling fish they do seem to be happiest when in a group. Probably because they are voracious breeders!
They like the water temperature to be between 70 to 75°F, though their colors do show best when kept in the cooler spectrum. They prefer a pH of 6.8-8 and water hardness of 10-28 dGH. They also prefer a slow current in the tank.
6. Kuhli Loach
The Kuhli Loach is a member of the Cobitidae family, and is also known as the Coolie, Leopard, or Cinnamon Loach. It is quite an usual shaped fish, making it a great addition for any aquarium.
They are an eel-like shape, and spend most of their time scavenging on the bottom of the tank which makes them great cleaners.
They grow to be between 3 to 5 inches in length and like to have crevices and caves to satisfy its curious nature and substrate to burrow in. Being highly curious they have been known to get themselves killed by going into the filter inlet, so make sure they are covered!
Kuhli Loaches are better suited to more experienced aquarists, as they have no scales on their head and so are quite prone to diseases. Prior experience with fish without scales is recommended before you get a Kuhli Loach.
As they like to burrow the substrate should be soft; either peat, sand, or a sand and fine gravel mix. They like a temperature range of 73-86°F and soft water between 0-5 dGH. They need slightly acidic water conditions of between 5.5 to 6.5 pH. They like having shaded areas and require moderate lighting.
7. Betta Fish
Betta fish are a very well known tropical fish. They might even be the most famous fish you can get for your tank. There are many resources available if you choose to get a Betta for your aquarium.
The Betta species is a member of the Osphronemidae family alongside Gouramis and Paradisefish. They grow to between 2 and 3 inches, and have beautiful long flowing fins and are very colorful. They are often classified based on their appearance.
If you’ve had an aquarium before or not, you’ve probably heard of the Betta’s reputation as being aggressive. Which is true, seeing as they are also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish. As such they are best kept on their own surrounded by peaceful fish.
Betta Fish have a specialized organ called the labyrinth organ which allows them to breathe air as well as water. This means that they like a lot of room at the surface of the tank to roam. A couple of perfect plants for Bettas are Hornwort and Java Moss.
They like a water temperature of between 75 to 80°F, a pH of between 6 to 8, and water hardness should be 5 to 35 dGH. There is some debate about what size and kind of tank they require. See our article: Can Betta Fish Live in a Bowl? 10 Reasons Why Not for more information.
They shouldn’t be in a tank with other aggressive fish as they can get into fights. See our list of best tankmates for Betta Fish
8. Harlequin Rasbora
These are very beautiful small fish which are perfect for beginners as they are very easy to care for; they have a simple easy diet and don’t need any special attention.
They are a small shoaling fish growing up to two inches in length and can live for up to 8 years. They are very active and will be seen swimming around the central column of the tank; they rarely venture to the surface or substrate. IF kept on their own they will be much more reclusive.
They like a water temperature of between 72 to 81°F. You should be keeping the pH relatively neutral from 6 to 7.8, and be keeping the hardness from 2 to 15 KH.
You should be aiming to keep around two fish per gallon. This will enable them to have enough room to move around the tank and be active.
They are omnivores and so will eat any fish foods. You should aim to top up their diet with live or frozen foods such as Bloodworms to keep them healthy and their colors looking striking.
9. Clown Loach
The Clown Loach is a very popular tropical freshwater fish. They are very colorful and very playful and fun to watch. They can live for a long time, often ten years or more, and can grow up to 12 inches long as adults.
Interestingly they don’t have scales, but are instead covered with a mucus layer. They have barbs on their snout which they use to root through the substrate for particles of food.
They are extremely social fish, and so are best kept in large community tanks in groups of five or more. However they also thrive in smaller tanks with less individuals, but they will be more timid and spend more time in hiding.
Clown Loaches are renowned for their funny and unique behaviours; they are often found lying upside down or on their side on the bottom of the tank. They are very playful and often chase each other around the tank.
They like the water temperature to be between 77 and 86°F and like a neutral pH of 6 to 8.
In their natural environment in the rivers and streams of Borneo and Sumatra they are found at the edges where there is plenty of vegetation, so you should aim to emulate this with plants like Amazon Swords, as they prefer subdued lighting.
10. Cherry Barb
Cherry Barbs are native to Sri Lanka, and are small fish growing to only two inches long. They live for around five years. They are extremely hardy which makes them perfect for beginner aquarists.
These small and peaceful shoaling fish which will bring a burst of life and color to the middle section of your tank. If not kept in a group they will be very timid.
You should be keeping at least six in a tank, and due to the aggressiveness of the males during breeding, you should have two females for every one male.
You should keep the water temperature between 73°F and 81°F, have the water hardness from 4 to 15, and keep the pH between 6 and 7.5. They also like a moderate water flow with lower lighting or plenty of plants to provide shade. Java Fern is a perfect plant for Cherry Barbs.
Guppies are the most widely recognized and popular tropical freshwater fish, found in every pet store across the world! Read our complete guppy care guide for expert information of keeping guppies.
There is a reason why they are so wildly popular; they are very colorful, hardy, and easy to care for. This makes them perfect for beginners as well as more advanced aquarists.
They display quite strong sexual dimorphism; the females are larger and more subdued in color with a shorter caudal fin, while males are smaller and have a longer, flowing and colorful caudal fin.
Guppies should be kept in groups, and you can keep one individual per two gallons of water. This means that you can keep 5 Guppies in a 10 gallon tank. Guppies are notorious breeders, so only keep males if you don’t want any fry!
The water temperature should be kept between 75 and 82°F and the pH between 5.5 and 8.5, though they do prefer a very neutral pH.
If you do want to breed Guppies it’s recommended to have plenty of grass such as this Breeding Grass to help protect the youngsters from the other fish in the tank. Ideally you would remove the pregnant females and put them into a specialized breeding tank.
12. Bristlenose Pleco
The Bristlenose Pleco is a great fish for any aquarium. They can reach five inches in length as adults and can live for more than five years.
You might be hard pressed to find where your Bristlenose Pleco actually is!! They are great at finding hiding places in the tank, but also sometimes venture out onto the tank glass where you can really see their amazing mouths.
They love having lots of places to explore, and rocks etc to feast upon algae. They really help keep algal levels in your tank down as they are constantly grazing.
They require the water temperature to remain from 60 to 80°F, the water hardness should be from 20 to 25, and the pH should be a neutral 6.5 to 7.5.
As they spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank you should consider getting an under-gravel filtration system or aquarium powerhead to increase the oxygen concentration in the water.
13. Dwarf Gourami
They are the cousins of Bettas, also being members of the Osphronemidae family. As with Bettas they possess a labyrinth organ which enables them to breathe air. Dwarf Gouramis are bound to be some of your most prized fish.
They can reach 4.5 inches in length as adults and can live for around five years. They are very colorful and radiant fish, and are categorized by their different colorations and patterns.
They need a stable water temperature of between 77 and 78.5°F. The like a water hardness of 10 to 20 dGH and a neutral pH of 6 to 8. They like a slow water flow, so consider getting plenty of plants to increase the oxygenation.
Hornwort is a perfect plant to have in your tank as it replicates their environment as found in the wild, and also provides plenty of shelter as they like to hide, and they can also build their bubble nests there to breed.
14. Fantail Goldfish
Goldfish are a must have in any cold water freshwater aquarium. Fantails make for a brilliant showcase goldfish which will take pride of place.
They are very hardy fish which only need a water temperature of 60°F, with an upper limit of 75°F, as they are a cold-water species. The pH of the water should be neutral and fall between 6 and 8.
They like a soft or fine substrate as they like to dig through it and find food. They also prefer being in a planted tank, but make sure that they still have plenty of room to swum around the tank.
Fantails do like to nibble and bite at the plants in the tank, so make sure to plant hardy species such as Hornwort which can survive being chewed on!
Fantails also need a filtered tank, so ensure to have a filter in place otherwise they can become susceptible to disease. Small shoaling fish are perfect to keep with these beautiful goldfish as they won’t nibble their long flowing fins.
15. Cory Catfish
Cory Catfish come in many different color varieties which depends on the species. They are small shoaling catfish, bringing plenty of personality to the bottom of the tank, as well as helping to clean up any debris.
They grow to be between 1 and 4 inches in length, depending on which species you acquire, and can live to around five years. They prefer finer substrates as they can more easily dig through the silt and find food.
They prefer the water temperature to be between 70 and 78°F. Fluctuations in temperature can cause high levels of stress, so ensure it remains constant. A heater and thermometer will ensure this. The pH needs to be kept between 7 and 7.8, and nitrate levels need to be kept to a minimum.
They also prefer slow water flow, so either lower the filter settings if you are able, or else break up the tank by planting live plants such as Amazon Swords.
Cory Catfish are great fish for both experienced and beginner aquarists, and will look great swimming and shoaling with other fish in the evening when they become much more active.
16. Freshwater Angelfish
If you have a bit of experience with fish-keeping you will have heard and know about the beauty of marine Angelfish. But there is almost a freshwater variety, kind of. The freshwater Angelfish is actually a Cichlid, and earns the name of angelfish based on the appearance of its fins.
They grow to be around 6 inches in length and can live for up to 10 years. They can get pretty aggressive at times, so keep them with peaceful fish which won’t antagonize them.
They truly are beautiful fish; their fins can be taller than the fish is long, and can reach 8 inches in height. They have a very distinct arrowhead shape, and have a wide fan like caudal fin and long trailing dorsal and pectoral fins.
When they are juveniles they have 7 black bonds which reduce to 4 as they mature. The body of the Angelfish can be gold, silver, black, or marbled in color as standard, but you can also find rarer color forms.
The aquarium temperature should be kept at between 75 and 82°F, while the pH needs to be neutral at between 6.8 and 7. The substrate should be fine, as Cichlids like to dig and forage to food. Harder and coarser substrates will only cut and damage them as they forage.
Hopefully you have gained some useful information reading through this list of the 16 best freshwater aquarium fish. Remember that your tank is unique to you, and get to know what fish you are looking for and what you want out of it.
All of the fish in this list are amazing pets and will bring life and color to your home or work. Make sure to check what temperature requirements they need, and if you need an aquarium heater, or if they like a strong current or weak flow, so you might need an aquarium powerhead or plants to break up strong currents. All of these freshwater fish need clean tank water in order to thrive. Therefore installing the best HOB filter or canister filter possible for your tank setup is vital to keep them happy and healthy.
If you find yourself struggling to find the time to feed your fish regularly you can always read our article on the best automatic fish feeders.
With this information in mind, go out and get the best freshwater aquarium fish for your tank!