Choosing the best freshwater aquarium fish is a tough job. Some are strange-looking like Flowerhorn Cichlids, while others are prettier than the majestic peacock bird. How can you make the right decision?
Our detailed guide reviews the 30 best freshwater home aquarium fish to help jumpstart your fishkeeping hobby.
Whether you’re looking for something new to light up your aquarium or a distinct-looking species to add a ton of personality to your community tank, we got you covered.
1. Betta Fish
Hailing from the shallow water bodies of South East Asia, Betta is probably the first name that comes to mind when we talk about freshwater aquarium pet fish. They are friendly, slow-moving freshwater fish famous for their beautiful jewel coloring.
The male species are notorious for aggressive behavior, occasionally flaring their fins uncontrollably when infuriated.
Bettas are a great choice for newbie aquarists but must be kept in an ideal environment to flourish at home. What’s more, Betta fish lead solitary lives in captivity and enjoy healthy meals of protein-based foods like the brine shrimp and bloodworms.
The Betta family has endless color variations, but the most common forms include orange, white, black, red, and blue. You can also find rarer variants like turquoise, copper, and metallic, as well as multicolored fish.
Guppies are another exciting freshwater fish commonly kept in the aquarium community. They are sometimes called the Million fish and are endemic to the tropical pools in the Caribbean and South America.
Guppies are naturally live-bearing species, existing in a wide range of colors to add an exciting hue to any aquarium.
With Guppy fish, it’s possible to create any aquarium as long as you can imagine the color variation. In terms of their behavior, Guppies are peaceful fish, ready to mingle freely with equally friendly species you may want to keep at home.
They’ve been kept with mollies, platys, and neon tetras when creating an all-alluring home aquarium.
Mollies are another beginner-friendly freshwater home aquarium fish that never misses in many community tanks.
They originate from the marine waters and freshwater streams of Colombia and Mexico, with their low maintenance making them more appealing to many aquarists.
Common Mollies have flattened bodies with large heads, usually assuming a triangular shape. Their bodies tend to taper down towards the snouts, with the males appearing smaller than the female fish.
If you are looking for variety inside the tank using a less popular small aquarium fish, the Mollies perfectly fit the bill.
But be sure to set up the right tank (usually 10 gallons at minimum), with a neutral to slightly basic pH and water temperatures ranging from 72°F-78°F.
4. Barb Fish
Barb fish is a famous ray-finned species of the Cyprinidae family. They are beautiful, less demanding, and hardy and should never miss from an alluring community tank.
Barb fish thrive in groups, and you should keep at least five or more at any given time. Anyone who considers this family of fish should be ready to match them to the best possible living conditions at home.
And that entails soft acidic water that’s properly aerated inside a well-planted freshwater fish tank.
From the Denison Barb to Tiger Barb, Black Ruby Barb, and Gold Barb, you will be spoilt for choice if you settle for any member of the exceptional Barb family as your best pet fish.
All in all, most Barbs will readily flourish inside a 20-gallon tank, with ideal temperatures (64°F-75°F) and a neutral to basic pH.
5. Neon Tetra
Shall we call them the most beautiful freshwater fish? Perhaps not, seeing as beauty is such a relative term. But in all honesty, this eye-catching small fish of the Characin family will blow you away with its priceless beauty.
They are a hardy little ornamental fish, with much more than the dazzling little bodies. Neon Tetras are peaceful fish that readily thrives in groups of up to 6 species.
They are native to the South American continent, boasting slender, torpedo-shaped bodies with interesting color markings. They are easily recognized by the bright neon blue stripe running the length of their bodies, which also gives them a special name.
As the name suggests, the Rainbowfish is a colorful freshwater fish hugely popular in the aquarium community for a specific reason; beauty.
Typically, most Rainbowfish species will flourish in schools, craving a well-planted aquarium with a rich supply of high-quality fish food. The rainbow-given name originates from the spectrum of colors all over their bodies, always likened to the actual multicolored rainbow.
Even though many people want to keep Rainbowfish because of their smooth-looking bodies, they are not ordinary freshwater aquarium fish.
They are naturally hardy species that can tolerate different conditions within the community tank. And that also makes them an exciting option for beginner-level aquarists and anyone keen to experiment with a beautiful Rainbowfish at home.
7. Oscar Fish
Oh! Well. In our opinion, many people dislike Oscar fish for absolutely no reason. They are a distinct-looking Cichlid species, going by other common names like the Marble Cichlid, Velvet Cichlid, and Tiger Oscar.
While a vast majority of would-be Cichlid keepers are often discouraged by their highly aggressive temperament, Oscar fish can be such a rewarding species if you understand what they truly want in captivity.
Of course, they can be territorial at times, but that’s more pronounced in a substandard environment or with the wrong tank mates.
If you’ve done proper research beforehand to understand the cravings of an Oscar fish, you will want to stick to a balanced diet with a comfortable living environment and the best possible tank mates.
Well, you don’t get named Goldfish for no reason. And these petite beauties of the aquarium hobby have truly lived up to many aquarists’ expectations, even if their care requirements are never straightforward.
The freshwater Goldfish are more than just their beautiful 2 inch long bodies. Also, many aquarists marvel at their hardiness, readily tolerating fluctuations in water pH and temperature in captivity.
A few basics you will want to get right when choosing a Goldfish variety include the fish’s size, behavior, and tank size.
Generally, most Goldfish species are friendly and prefer complex environments with enough decorations. That means enough live plants, full-spectrum light, and a soft sandy substrate are integral to effective Goldfish care.
Plecostomus, or simply the Common Pleco, is an easy choice for the best freshwater aquarium fish.
Hailing from the natural freshwater streams and rivers in West Africa and South America, these fish deservedly get their name from the beautiful bristles on their snouts.
They can grow up to 6 inches long in captivity and lead solitary lives, especially in small tanks. A typical day in the life of Common Plecos involves a ton of activities, from classic exploration to cleaning algae or simply relaxing at the bottom of the tank.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature in the Plecostomus fish is their beautiful armored bodies, completely shielding them from possible dangers they may face from fellow tank mates.
But that also means they are a scaleless species and need maximum care in captivity.
Angelfish are the glittery members of the aquarium community, famously kept for their gorgeous-looking bodies and long appendages that give them a distinct appearance in captivity.
They are a popular Cichlid type originating from South America and can grow up to 6 inches with quality care. Their carefully selected name represents their wing-like fins, making them stand out in any aquarium.
If you are familiar with most Cichlid species, you shouldn’t worry about caring for the Angelfish regardless of what you might have heard about them.
They have a reputation for being aggressive, limiting the number of potential tank mates in captivity. However, you can still find a few suitable companions for your beautiful fish, given they aren’t natural bullies like many Cichlids.
11. Cherry Barb
Cherry Barb is a beautiful freshwater fish that many aquarists fall in love with at first sight. And perhaps you’ve even kept one at home.
Generally, Cherry Barb is a stunning tropical freshwater fish with an enviable reputation in the fishkeeping community. They are a brilliantly looking species admired for their slender, elongated bodies and cherry red coloring.
For beginner-level hobbyists, Cherry Barbs’ ease of care is almost unmatchable, giving many a chance to keep a striking Barb fish at home for the first time.
And for advanced aquarists, Cherry Barbs’ schooling behavior makes them a joy to watch in captivity, perfectly adding to the aesthetic appeal of the community tank.
A standard 25-30 gallon tank would be ideal for keeping a typical Cherry Barb at home. But of course, more fish require a larger tank from the start.
12. Dwarf Pufferfish
Have you ever heard of Dwarf Pufferfish before? They are small, freshwater aquarium fish native to the southern Karnataka and Kerala regions in Southwest India.
They are sometimes called the Pygmy Pufferfish, Malabar Pufferfish, or Pea Pufferfish and have been such a revelation in the aquarium hobby.
Dwarf Pufferfish can be so addicting to watch with their odd-looking facial expressions. They are a lesser-known Pufferfish variety, but a few individuals who know them understand what an excellent addition they can be to home aquariums.
With a maximum size of only 1.4 inches, Dwarf Pufferfish can readily thrive in a small 5-gallon tank, but you will need a larger size for a small group of up to 4 fish.
Unfortunately, the male Pea Pufferfish can be aggressive to one another, meaning you can only keep one of them in the same habitat at a time.
13. Discus Fish
Discus fish is an attractive member of the Cichlidae family with a majestic appearance. They are endemic to the floodplain lakes and deeply forested regions within the Amazon River basin and prefer warm, soft acidic waters.
Discus fish have never appealed to beginner-level aquarists because of their specialized care needs despite their natural beauty.
And almost a decade after their introduction to the pet industry, many fish lovers still can’t seem to agree on the actual number of Discus species currently available in the aquarium hobby.
But no matter where you belong, Discus fish is a rewarding species for many reasons, starting with the peaceful temperament that gives them an endless list of potential tank mates at home.
If you need another small beautiful fish for your freshwater aquarium, Killifish fits the bill. They are captivating, egg-laying fish commonly found in warm water climates.
We see them as the underrated gems of the aquarium hobby, able to transform even the most boring aquarium with their brightly colored bodies.
They are not the most popular freshwater fish, but for anyone who prioritizes a fascinating egg-laying pet buddy with a peaceful temperament, the Killifish is a must-have inside a community tank.
You won’t see varying spawning phases in most freshwater aquarium fish. But with the Killifish, spawning occurs at different periods during the year, rightfully classifying them as annual, semi-annual, or non-annual species.
15. Ram Cichlids
The Blue Ram, or Ram Cichlid, inhabits the Orinoco river basin in South America.
They are not as popular as many Cichlid fish but can be an exciting addition if you understand their dietary needs and water chemistry. Typically, the Ram Cichlids are omnivorous fish, happy to feed on a varied diet of meats and plant-based matter.
They will remain peaceful inside the tank, doing just enough to maintain their space by minding their own business.
Remember that Ram Cichlids have no preferred region inside the tank, and swimming is a significant aspect of their daily lives.
For that reason, you must set up a large tank using the right decorations and introduce the best possible tank mates. Also, they would benefit from enough hiding spots like rocks, caves, and plants.
16. Clown Loach
Clown Loach, famously called the Tiger Loach, or Chromobotia macracanthus is a small, beautiful, tropical freshwater fish with a mellow personality.
They are endemic to Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands in Asia and are a great option for newbie aquarists looking for the perfect combination of beauty, hardiness, and low maintenance.
When kept in confined environments, Tiger Loaches appreciate a well-planted aquarium, with a soft sandy substrate and the right mix of submerged plants and the floating types.
As far as their dietary needs go, Clown Loaches prefer different types of high-quality fish food, starting with the typical sinking pellets and algae wafers, in addition to brine shrimp, bloodworms, and earthworms.
17. African Cichlids
African Cichlids are large, freshwater fish originating from the beautiful African continent. However, some varieties have been found in South America and Asia.
Known for their wide range of exciting colors and agility, there’s absolutely no reason you won’t love African Cichlid as a member of your community tank.
As you would expect with most Cichlid fish, African Cichlids can get quite aggressive, but their activity level makes them a joy to watch at all times. And as long as you set up the right aquarium, you shouldn’t have any problem maintaining these Cichlids at home.
With their large sizes, the fundamentals of an ideal tank setup for the exceptional African Cichlids include large size (at least 30 gallons), an open swimming space, and plenty of hiding places.
18. Zebra Danios
Zebra Danios are active, hardy, and peaceful and might be exactly what you’ve been looking for in the broader aquarium community.
As their name suggests, these Danios have beautifully striped bodies that make them impressive in just about any environment.
They are one of the best fish to have as pets, with straightforward care requirements that have always appealed to many aquarists.
Given their preference for cooler environments, Zebra Danios will be fine in unheated waters, saving you additional costs when setting up their habitat. But that’s not all.
As the almost flawless fish for aquascaping, Zebra Danios have an endless list of potential tank mates, including the Honey Gouramis, Emerald Pufferfish, Scarlet Badis, and Ember Tetras, to mention a few.
Otocinclus, sometimes called the Dwarf Suckers, are probably the most popular catfishes of the Loricariidae family.
They have beautiful rows of armor plating covering their bodies, only adding to their resilience in captivity.
Otocinclus, or simply the Oto catfish as they are commonly called, are endemic to specific South American rivers and have built an unparalleled reputation for clearing up unwanted algal growth in community tanks.
If you want a peaceful, undemanding fish that can readily flourish in just a 10-gallon tank, there you go.
As long as you keep up to 4-6 species at home, you shouldn’t have any problem maintaining a thriving Oto Catfish community at home.
20. Siamese Algae Eater
Just as the name suggests, Siamese Algae Eater is a distinct freshwater fish specializing in eating algae.
Like Otocinclus mentioned earlier, Siamese Algae Eater has built a name for itself as the “destroyer” of unwanted algae. For distant admirers, Siamese Algae Eaters can scarf down vast amounts of algae at any given time.
That aside, they are relatively peaceful and fun to have at home. But just like most tropical fish, the Siamese Algae Eater prefers slightly acidic waters with pH ranging from 6.5 to 7.0.
On the other hand, their ideal tank size should never go below 25 gallons. Of course, they are a relaxed species that thrive in peaceful communities. So, you can keep them with other peaceful, bottom-dwelling fish like the Corydoras.
21. Gourami Fish
Gouramis, or Gourames as some would call them, are an exceptional group of freshwater aquarium fish native to the Asian continent.
They belong to the Osphronemidae family and are one of the easiest egg-laying species to breed at home.
The male Gouramis are somewhat territorial, which is why only one of them should appear inside a community tank at a time.
Ideal water conditions for raising a thriving Gourami community include a suitable water temperature, usually between 74°F-79°F, moderate hardness, and neutral pH.
Also, Gouramis love their new habitats well-planted with the right vegetation like the java ferns, Vallisneria, or cryptocoryne.
How about new tank mates? Well, Gouramis are happy to coexist with just about any small-sized peaceful fish like the guppies, swordtails, chili rasboras, mollies, and harlequin rasboras.
22. Rasbora Fish
Rasbora represents a unique group of freshwater aquarium fish known for being peaceful, beautiful, and quite fun to care for.
This family has some of the best freshwater aquarium fish you can ever keep as a fish pet, including the Chili Rasbora, Harlequin Rasbora, and Brilliant Rasbora.
Whatever you do, never keep your Rasbora fish in a subpar environment. While they are naturally smaller species compared to most freshwater fish, Rasboras have an impressive lifespan, easily reaching around eight years with quality care.
Usually, they thrive in relaxed schools, so be sure to keep them in groups if you want them to be part of an amazing home aquarium for the longest time.
23. Cory Catfish
Cory Catfish is a beautiful freshwater fish that never misses from a peaceful community.
They are attractive members of the broader Callichthyidae family and have been kept in captivity for a specific reason; clearing algae.
They are the beautiful bottom cleaners that will spend much of their time foraging the substrate to find any traces of growing algae.
Of course, they are just a smaller species and will be secure in groups. So, before you introduce the Cory Catfishes to your home, ensure you have the right tank size to make everyone safe.
Typically, Cory Catfish require at least 10 gallons from the start to help them have their best lives in captivity. As for the water parameters, stick to anything between 70°F-80°F for water temperature with a neutral pH (6.0-8.0) and moderate to soft conditions.
Swordtail fish is a beautiful member of the Poeciliidae family with an intimidating name for obvious reasons.
These are an ever-present figure in the aquarium trade, with a lovely appearance and impressive lifespan that’s always appealing to many fish lovers.
As you would expect, Swordtails are easily recognized by their pointed caudal fins that appear to protrude from the rear part of their bodies.
Apart from that, they have streamlined bodies that sometimes associate them with the Southern Platys, another distinctive freshwater fish of the same family.
A single fish will be comfortable inside a 15-gallon tank but be ready for a tank upgrade if you keep more species in the same habitat, which is always advisable.
As for the typical diet, feed your Swordtails on varied food items like protein-rich snacks, flakes, and pellets, and of course algae wafers, as an occasional snack.
25. Bristlenose Pleco
Bristlenose Pleco is one of the many varieties of the Ancistrus family, loved for its terrific tank cleaning habits.
They are friendly and easy to care for, but you will never maintain a thriving community in a compromised environment given their enormous appetite for algae.
What’s more, Bristlenose Plecos get their names from the eye-catching bristles all over their bodies that are more noticeable in the male species.
As a social and peaceful fish with a relaxed personality, Bristlenose Plecos will only want to spend their time munching their favorite food at the bottom of the tank.
They have no trouble living with other algae eaters or equally peaceful fish like the Guppies, Platies, or the Neon Tetras.
The Rainbow Kribs, or simply Kribensis, is a West African Cichlid fish that continues to gain plenty of attention from fish lovers around the world. They are colorful freshwater fish with manageable care requirements.
They show a peaceful demeanor for the better part of the days but tend to nip on other fish’s fins, especially the slow-moving varieties. For that reason, be cautious when introducing new tank mates to a Rainbow Kribs’ habitat.
Typically, Kribensis exist in various color morphs, including blue, red, yellow, green, and the rarer albino varieties. What’s more, the average tank size for keeping a typical Kribensis Cichlid should have at least a 20-30 gallon capacity.
Your Kribensis will have their best lives with a neutral pH and dense vegetation as part of the general tank décor. Regarding their dietary needs, feel free to provide a rich supply of sinking pellets as a starting point.
The Platy fish have a long history in the aquarium trade and are commonly found in Southern Mexico and Central America.
The two common variants include the variable Platy and Southern Platy, and it is their crossbreeding resulting in the endless color morphs currently available in the aquarium community.
Their triangular-shaped heads are easily noticeable at first glance, and you won’t fail to spot the upturned mouths that give them a characteristic appearance.
A typical Platy fish will only measure around 2.5 inches in total body length, but they can live for up to 5 years with the best possible care.
When setting up your Platy’s habitat, ensure you create a natural feel by prioritizing soft sand or gravel substrate, plenty of plants, and ample swimming space.
28. Kuhli Loach
Kuhli Loach is a slender, snake-like freshwater fish that can be interesting to have as a favorite pet fish. They are also called the Leopard Loach, Coolie Loach, or the Prickly Eye and are predominantly found in the freshwater streams of Southeast Asia.
Ever since they were first introduced to the aquarium hobby in the 1800s, Kuhli Loaches have maintained their reputation as a less demanding, peaceful fish that thrives in the right environment.
At only 5 inches long in maturity, you must do everything to ensure your multicolored Kuhli Loaches reach their optimal sizes in captivity.
And that means choosing suitable tank mates, maintaining a steady food supply, and providing enough swimming space will be an integral part of effective care.
29. Pearl Gourami
Pearl Gourami is kept by any aquarist looking for the right mix of hardiness and beauty without breaking the bank.
They are not just cute-looking fish but a peaceful member of the Osphronemidae family that’s so easy to care for.
For Pearl Gouramis, everything revolves around their attractive bodies, taking on an iconic look with the neatly distributed pearl-like dots. Also, they have a visible, black line running vertically from their mouths to the tailfin.
Pearl Gouramis are among the friendliest freshwater fish, happy to live with any non-aggressive species that can tolerate the same water conditions.
While they can get slightly aggressive during the mating season, there’s never a call for concern in captivity.
Pearl Gouramis can share the same aquarium with the Neon Tetras, Cory Catfishes, and the Dwarf Gouramis, among the rest.
30. Dwarf Gourami
As we conclude, how about building an alluring aquarium with just a pair of Dwarf Gouramis? For anyone looking for a small nano fish that can easily flourish in a 10-gallon tank, there are a few better options than these cute-looking Gouramis.
They are available in several color forms, but you can settle for the flame type if you value aesthetic appeal.
As far as their care guidelines go, the Dwarf Gouramis are resilient, thriving in well-planted aquariums with temperatures slightly over 72°F.
With their peaceful temperament, the Dwarf Gouramis have an exciting list of possible tank mates, including the Sparkling Gouramis, Rasboras, Tetras, and the Mollies, among the rest.
That marks the end. We just covered the 30 best freshwater fish that could take your aquarium hobby to a whole new level.
Sometimes, choosing a suitable species gets so confusing that many aquarists restrict themselves to just a single fish for the rest of their lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
With the correct information beforehand, you could make a game-changing decision by choosing an ideal freshwater fish that tickles all boxes. And certainly, you can never go wrong with one or a pair of the many species on our list.