If you’re getting into freshwater aquariums for the first time, it can be intimidating to know which fish to pick. Ideally, you want something hardy, budget-friendly, and colorful with an interesting personality. Check out our list of top 10 beginner fish (in no particular order) that are easy to care for and would make a great addition to your aquarium!
There are many types of rasboras, but our favorite ones are the harlequin rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha) and lambchop rasbora (Trigonostigma espei). Known for their bright orange color and distinctive black triangular patch, these peaceful nano fish only grow to about two inches long and are readily available in most pet stores. Other rasboras include the miniscule neon green rasbora (Microdevario kubotai) and larger scissortail rasbora (Rasbora trilineata). Get a school or six or more of the same rasbora species, and they’ll make a striking display in your community tank. For more information on caring for your rasboras, view our full care guide here.
Veterans often warn new fish keepers to stay away from goldfish because they get so large, but they’re still a great beginner pet because they’re very resilient and easy to care for. Common goldfish (Carassius auratus) grow to about 12 to 14 inches, so they require 30 gallons of water per fish (or two goldfish in a 55-gallon aquarium). Many people even put their goldfish in outdoor ponds once they reach their adult size. They love eating spirulina algae, vegetables, Repashy Super Gold, and other foods higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein content.
Goldfish are very forgiving with water parameters such as pH and water hardness, but they do require lots of water changes to keep their tank clean. A single-species aquarium is preferred, since they will try to eat any animals (and plants) that fit in their mouths.
Like rasboras, tetras are another very popular, small schooling fish that come in tons of varieties – like neon tetras (Paracheirodon innesi), cardinal tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi), black neon tetras (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi), and Congo tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus). They’re pretty easy to care for and prefer neutral pH waters from 7.0 to 7.8 (usually on the higher side for African tetras and lower for wild-caught South American tetras). As with most schooling fish, keep them in groups of six or more because they enjoy safety in numbers. Tetras go very well with rasboras and other community fish on this list. More information can be found in our neon tetra and cardinal tetra guide.
Cory catfish are peaceful schooling fish, much like rasboras and tetras, but they dwell at the bottom of the aquarium. Growing to one to three inches in length, they love scavenging around the tank floor and looking for crumbs, but you must specifically feed them a variety of sinking foods to make sure they get enough nutrition.
Over 160 species have been identified so far, but the most popular species include the bronze and albino cory (Corydoras aeneus), panda cory (Corydoras panda), and emerald green cory (Corydoras splendens). Keep them in a group of at least three to six of the same species to best enjoy their silly antics. Find out more by reading our cory catfish care guide.
These 3-inch livebearers (meaning fish that bear live young) are especially robust, even more so than guppies. They can handle a wide range of pH from 7.0 and higher and tend to prefer harder waters. Plus, platies are voracious eaters and will eat nearly any omnivore community food you throw at them. Our favorite type is the variatus platy (Xiphophorus variatus), so make sure to check them out!
Betta fish are the king of beginner fish because of their vivid coloration, small size, and simple care requirements. They can be kept by themselves in a 5-gallon aquarium with a gentle filter or with a community of other fish in a 10-gallon tank or larger. (Don’t keep them with other betta fish because their nickname is “Siamese fighting fish” for a reason.) Suitable tank mates include tetras, corydoras, and other peaceful creatures, but avoid any fish that may nip their beautiful fins. As meat eaters, they like betta pellets, frozen bloodworms, and other small floating foods. Find out how to set up a beautiful betta fish tank by reading our guide.
Barbs make a lively, action-packed addition to your community tank. Growing to three to four inches (and larger), the most popular varieties include tiger barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona), Odessa barbs (Pethia padamya), and cherry barbs (Puntius titteya). Some species are considered semi-aggressive, so we recommend buying six or more to reduce fin nipping. Good tank mates include rasboras, tetras, and corydoras, but stay away from long-finned fish like angelfish and betta fish.
The Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) is an excellent beginner cichlid from South America that’s very similar to their colorful but less hardy cousins, the German ram. Running at three inches long, they make a great centerpiece fish for a medium-sized community aquarium because of their unique cichlid behavior, yellow and black coloration, and ease of breeding. Bolivian rams appreciate pH of 7.0 to 8.0 and temperatures around 72 to 79°F, and they can be kept with nearly any community fish that matches these same requirements.
Kuhli loaches (Pangio kuhlii) will either fascinate or freak you out because they look like little 4-inch eels or snakes. As nocturnal fish, they tend to be a little shy and hide behind decor, so keep them groups of at least three to six so that they feel safe enough to come out and explore. Like corydoras, these bottom dwellers scavenge for leftovers on the ground and between rocks, but you must specifically feed them to make sure they don't go hungry. Read more about them in our kuhli loach care guide.
With their beautiful shape, distinctive fins, and lovely striped pattern, the striking angelfish certainly lives up to its name. Since they can grow to the size of a small saucer, keep them in 55 or more gallons of water (especially in vertically tall tanks). This large showpiece cichlid does well with rasboras, tetras, and other community fish, but it’s best to just keep one to avoid territorial fighting among their own species. Common varieties include marble, zebra, koi, and veil angelfish.
All of these beginner fish are hardy, easy to care for, and readily available at your local fish store, so have fun researching your next fish and deciding which one is best for you!