Photo Credit: Annie Roi
The go-to pet of parents hoping to teach their children some responsibility before introducing a larger pet to the picture, the goldfish is often chosen for being a very hardy fish.
If housed in a tank at least 20-gallon in size – you can expect your goldfish to grow up to a size of 14 inches in size and live for upwards of a decade (the oldest recorded goldfish made it to a staggering 43 years).
With so many different types and colors for only a couple of dollars from most pet stores, goldfish should be high on your list if you’re hoping to stock your tank on a budget. That said, to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend this fish for the beginner.
Photo Credit: William Warby
Because of how easy to care for, guppies are almost as popular among beginners. Their popularity is also because they are one of the most colorful fish with their vibrant colors and hypnotic tail types, which are most commonly seen in males.
It is important to remember that guppies, unlike goldfish, are sociable creatures and so should be kept in groups, which may be a problem if you would like to avoid the stress of caring for multiple fish. Their small size makes them ideal for beginners.
If you are interested in keeping guppies, it is recommended to keep guppies in sets of threes, with one gallon of water per fish.
3. Corydoras Catfish
Photo Credit: Noel J. Goodwin
If you’re hoping to keep community tanks as opposed to simply housing a single species in your tank, you should consider purchasing a Cory or two.
Though quite a sociable bunch, Corydoras are hardy, calm and non-confrontational, which makes them the ideal community fish.
Cory catfish are primarily bottom feeders and so should be fed using sinking pellets. Go with traditional flakes instead, and your Cory will likely grow weak, losing each meal to faster and more active fish. As far as size go the Cory won’t get much bigger than 1.5″.
Photo Credit: Julieanh
With little goal beyond enjoying its own existence, the killifish is unlikely to start any battles with other fish in your aquarium, so you can be certain of a peaceful tank as long as you keep just one male killifish (they can get quite aggressive when mating season rolls around).
Speaking of mating, the killifish is one of the easiest aquarium fish to breed and requires far less specific conditions than some other species of fish.
Aside from its resilience, this unique fish is easy to breed and has a great allure because of its colorfulness. With patterns and colors galore across its 700 species, even the most pedantic of aquarists won’t have trouble finding a killifish to match the color scheme of their tank.
5. Betta Fish (Siamese Fighting Fish)
Photo Credit: Brownpau
We know what you’re thinking, but don’t let the name fool you. While male Siamese fighting fish are indeed aggressive towards each other, it is actually quite an agreeable fish when just one male is housed in a tank. It’s also one of the most common fish species you’ll find in stores.
Beginners hoping to maintain a peaceful tank can add a Siamese fighting fish to their aquarium knowing that it can live with other peaceful fish, but be careful not to mix certain types of fish with long fins and bright colors, which may bring out the aggressive nature of the betta.
Perhaps because of the negative connotations its name arouses, the Siamese fighting fish is more commonly known as the “betta” in fishkeeping circles.
Many bettas boast flared opercula, which gives them a unique appearance regardless of their pattern and makes them impossible to miss in an aquarium. While bettas do enjoy plant food, they are omnivorous and also require animal protein.
If you’re up for a challenge, you should consider adding an angelfish or two to your aquarium. Although the angelfish can be difficult to raise and keep, many aquarists argue that its unique body and many color variations make the experience more than worth it.
Much like Siamese fighting fish, angelfish are omnivorous and require a balanced diet of plants and animal food, which can be a challenge to get right if you have no prior experience keeping aquarium fish.
Furthermore, angelfish require a large tank and should have no less than 20 gallons of water to move around in. As it matures, your angelfish may reach up to 6 inches in length, which will be a problem if you have smaller fish in your aquarium as it will be eager to assert its dominance.
7. Neon Tetra
Photo Credit: Moto Miwa
Named for the incandescent blue stripe that runs across its body and renders it visible even in darkness, the neon tetra is a staple of aquariums and has long been a popular choice among beginners.
Close to 1.5 million neon tetras are imported to the US every month, which is good news for American aquarists as this is a particularly sociable fish. It is suggested that you keep at least five neon Tetras in your tank at a time, as smaller groups may feel threatened despite their own peaceful nature.
You won’t have to worry about a group of neon tetras taking up all the space in your aquarium as even when fully grown; they rarely exceed 2 centimeters.
Check out this roundup some fish that can live with Neon Tetras to give this pretty little fish some company in your tank.
8. Cherry Barbs
Photo Credit: Max Wei
Cherry barbs are a relatively hardy and easy fish to care for as long as you have an appropriate size tank. When grown, this species will reach 2 inches in size and will require at least 25 gallons of water.
You should also add some plants to your aquarium if you’re considering going with this fish, as it is one of many fish that like to hide themselves away even when not in danger.
If you google a picture of cherry barbs, you’ll find several dozen images of a bright redfish, which, of course, gives the creature its name. It is important to remember that this fish is primarily silver in color, with males turning bright red only when spawning.
Photo Credit: Harum.koh
Although remarkably unfriendly when it comes to its interactions with other species of fish, the oscar can build up quite a positive relationship with humans, with its capacity for what appears to be love being traced back to its superior intelligence when compared to other tropical fish.
Because of its hostility, it is not suitable for housing in a community fish tank and should be kept only with large, aggressive fish with enough space. It is this aggressiveness, combined with its enhanced waste production and frustratingly specific diet, that turns many fishkeepers off.
Of course, the oscar is not without its charm. Because of its intelligence, it is taught to respond to its name and may even learn a few tricks over the course of its two-decade estimated lifespan.
10. Bristlenose Pleco
Photo Credit: M.Shattock
If you’re considering breeding your fish, you should cross the Bristlenose off your list because it is definitely not what you are looking for.
A species of catfish, the Bristlenose pleco, is notoriously challenging to breed, with even the most experienced and dedicated fish keepers failing in their attempts to do so.
Read our care guide for the: Bristlenose Pleco
This fish requires little traditional fish food and prefers to feast on the algae that typically develops in a tank, so it can be relied upon to clean the aquarium in which it is housed.
Despite being a bottom feeder, the Bristlenose can actually be quite amusing to observe, owing to its tendency to launch itself through the water (incidentally, do not house a Bristlenose in an open tank).
11. Zebra Danios
Photo Credit: Ruaraidh Gillies
Much like the Bristlenose pleco, the danio is known to jump and so should not be kept in an open tank. Thankfully, that’s where the specific requirements end with this species of fish.
Care for danios is very easy as it’s a very hardy fish and one of the best fish for the beginner and can flourish in a number of water conditions. Rarely exceeding 7 centimeters in size, a zebra danio requires only 10 gallons of water and can be sustained on generic flakes.
It should be pointed out, however, that danios like to travel in groups and can become stressed to the point of ill-health if kept alone.
Photo Credit: Allie Caulfield
Much like the zebra danio, the platy is a community fish and prefers to travel in groups of five, although it feels safer in larger groups. But despite the fact it calls for a large group, the platy can live a happy life in just 10 gallons of water.
Furthering its similarities to the zebra danio, care for this fish is very easy. The platy is visually pleasing, with some arguing it is more interesting to look at than its predecessor and, indeed, the vast majority of aquarium fish.
This is because platies are not limited to a single color or pattern. Platies are a peaceful bunch and get on particularly well with other small fish. They can be fed both plants and animal foods, although they generally prefer the former.
Photo Credit: KnOizKi
Mollies are an easy community fish and actually get on quite well with platies. Mollies can grow quite large and often end up pushing 5 inches in adulthood, so you should house yours in a tank of over 20 gallons (although 20 gallons alone should be enough if you’re keeping only a small group).
If you’re considering breeding, mollies are worth looking at as they are arguably the best fish for doing so in freshwater. That being said, mollies maybe a little too eager to breed, so if you aren’t ready to commit to raising several, you should only choose one for your tank.
The discus is a breathtaking fish but has very specific needs that can rarely be met by the beginner aquarist. You should only consider adding one to your tank if you have at least a year of experience under your belt.
The discus requires a premium-grade tank of at least 25 gallons and can grow up to 20 centimeters when properly housed and fed an adequate diet.
That adequate diet is primarily composed of beef heart and blood worms (yum), but you should also throw some flakes in there for additional nutrients.
15. Pearl Gourami
Photo Credit: Stefan Maurer
Hydra is a polyp that enters aquariums with a little goal beyond killing fry and smaller fish. In order to combat hydra, many fish keepers stock their tanks with pearl gourami.
Pearl gourami feast on hydra and are unaffected by its venom, which allows them to protect the fish with which they share their tank. When not doing battle with the pest, pearl gourami is quite peaceful and can be safely housed in community aquariums.
It is important to note, however, that this fish can get pretty big and requires a tank of at least 30 gallons, along with low lighting and plenty of space for hiding.
Photo Credit: Greyloch
Despite its vibrant colors and relative hardiness, the rainbowfish rarely pops up in aquariums and should only be expected to be seen in the tank of particularly dedicated hobbyists.
Despite its lack of popularity, the rainbowfish is a very cool fish that is a very sociable creature and gets on well with other peaceful fish, so it can be safely housed in a community aquarium.
Should you decide to purchase a rainbow fish, you should be mindful of the fact that they only begin to show their colors as they enter adulthood, so you have more to gain in the long run from going with a pale rainbowfish than you do from choosing the most beautiful one you can find.
17. Green Swordtail
Despite their name, green swordtails are peaceful fish and avoid confrontation whenever possible. In fact, they seem to participate in friendships with other fish actively and so can be expected to adapt to and thrive in your community aquarium.
Green swordtails get on particularly well with platies, and the two species are so closely related that they can crossbreed.
The green swordtail is a good choice if you are new to fishkeeping as they can survive in a variety of conditions and can easily withstand the most common mistakes made by inexperienced hobbyists.
What are the prettiest fish to keep in a freshwater aquarium?
In my opinion, one of the prettiest tropical fishes that we didn’t mention above that you can keep in a small fish tank is the cherry barb. It’s tiny, energetic, is suitable in a variety of tank conditions, and will only get a few inches long.
Another fish that many people might not consider very pretty but I like the Kuhli loach. It’s very active at night, but if you can catch it during the day, it’s brown with very nice gold/yellow bands that run across its body. Although this is very simple, I think it’s a very attractive fish.
What is the best starter fish for a freshwater aquarium?
There are many peaceful species of fish that are great for a new aquarium owner such as guppies, tetras, danios. But my favorite is the white cloud minnow. It’s very active, nice red fins, very hardy and can withstand a variety of tank conditions.
What is the most popular freshwater aquarium fish?
Overall when it comes down to selecting the best freshwater fish of all time, I’d have to go with the Betta Fish. The Betta looks beautiful in almost any tropical fish tank and available in so many different colors and fin types you can find one for any tank set up.
That said, Bettas are typically sold to beginners as an easy to care for fish, which they are not. Bettas are hardy but can be impacted by tank size, water temperature, water conditions you are also very limited to the types of tank mates you can place in the same aquarium.
Most beginners will place a Betta in a tank that is far too small, especially if they don’t keep up with regular water changes, and ultimately, the Betta will face some kind of illness.
The trick with Betta fish is to make sure you have a tank size no smaller than 5 gallons, do regular water changes and feed them a good diet of protein-rich food like brine shrimp or blood worms.
If you want to learn more? Check out our Betta Fish Beginners Guide.
What is the most low maintenance fish?
There is a lot of low maintenance fish out there, but as I mentioned above, I like the White Cloud Minnow. It’s very active, nice red fins, very hardy and can withstand a variety of tank conditions. Basically, if you can keep the water temperature consistent and feed them good food, they are very easy to care for fish that is compatible with a large variety of tank mates.