12 Best Freshwater Fish for Beginner Aquarists

Once you’ve decided to start your own freshwater aquarium, picking your starting fish can feel equally exciting as it is daunting – there’s so many different types!

In this article, you’ll discover some beautiful, entertaining buddies you can use to ease you into the hobby.

These easy-going fish won’t make a fuss if you make some mistakes.

So let’s get started, and discuss some of my favorite freshwater fish for beginner aquarists you’ll love.

What Makes a Fish Beginner Friendly?

Not all fish have the same tolerance levels, in the aquarium community we call this ‘hardiness’. And a beginner friendly fish is hardier than others.

As a beginner, you’re likely to make mistakes. Hardy fish has a higher chance of surviving abuse, improper conditions and incorrect water parameters.

That’s not to say you can’t go for a more delicate fish… it’s just… you’re more likely to fail because the care levels are much higher.

However, there are a lot of great hardy fish out there for you to choose from. They’re forgiving and are more likely to survive any mistakes you make. This will allow you to get your hands wet with the hobby.

You’ll be able to take off your training wheels.

You can use these fish to help build your fundamental fish keeping skills and knowledge. Then, when you’re comfortable, you can move onto moderate caring fish and delicate fish.

It’s Not All About Being Hardy

Just because a fish is hardy, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for a beginner. There are more hardy fish out there, however, they don’t meet all the standards to make it beginner friendly.

Here’s what makes a hardy fish freshwater beginner friendly

  • The size it grows to: it should be able to live it’s whole life in a 10-30 gallon tank (3-4 inches)
  • A community fish: your fish should be able to get on with just about anything so you don’t have to worry about it fighting
  • Clean: you don’t want it to cause an excess amount of waste for its size
  • Easy on the eye

Best Freshwater Fish For Beginners

The following freshwater fish are in no particular order, they’re all suitable for you.

1. White Cloud Minnow

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Friendly
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Approx. Size: 1.5″
  • pH: 6.0-8.0
  • Temperature: 64-72 °F
  • Hardness: 5-20 dGH

A small colorful fish, it’s very hardy and often recommended to beginners as they can be forgiving when it comes to water temperature and quality.

But, you don’t want to go too warm on them, they love cold water.

White Cloud Minnows are shoaling fish, and feel comfortable in a group of at least 6. Keeping one alone could cause it to become timid and lose its bright color.

And you’ll be able to keep these with most other fish, as long these other fish aren’t likely to eat them.

Not picky eaters, they’ll eat all types of food, including live, frozen, and flake food.

2. Zebra Danios

Best freshwater fish for beginners Zebra Danios with distinctive horizontal zebra stripes swimming against soft green plants background. Soft focus

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Approx. Size: 2″
  • pH: 6.5-7.0
  • Temperature: 64-74 °F
  • Hardness: 5-12 dGH

A popular fish for beginners, Zebra Dinos are an attractive hardy fish. Easily recognizable with their striped zebra pattern, they’ve got a ton of energy and personality.

And they’re most comfortable in a school of six or more.

It’s a fish that will help branch your knowledge off into areas of fish keeping you may not have thought of. Zebra Danios like to stay on the upper levels of an aquarium, so it will teach you about the different zones in your aquarium.

These fish are omnivorous and will accept most foods. However, they do enjoy small live or frozen inverts and fresh vegetable matter.

3. Black Skirt Tetra

Best freshwater fish for beginners Black Skirt Tetra swimming against glass background

Image Source

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Approx. Size: 2″
  • pH: 6.0-8.0
  • Temperature: 68-79 °F
  • Hardness: 15 dGH

Black Skirt Tetra’s are known for their distinctive black dorsal and anal fins. You should keep it in a school of at least five, and although 10 gallons is the bare minimum, a 20+ gallon tank would be a good idea.

Although, they’re excellent community fish if you house them with slow moving or fish with long fins they may nip at them. Black Skirt Tetra’s are accustomed to large plants in their natural habitat, so you should include plants, rocks and other hiding places.

These hardy fish will soldier through any mistakes you might make and they’re prepared to eat just about any food: live, fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, or flake foods.

4. Platies

Best freshwater fish for beginners Platy swimming against a glass background and gravel bedding. Soft focus

Image Source

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Approx. Size: 2″
  • pH: 6.8-8.0
  • Temperature: 65-78 °F
  • Hardness: 10-28 dGH

An awesome choice, Platies have been selectively bred to create new color combinations, so you can pick and choose from many varieties.

They’re a good hardy fish that will take some fluctuation in water conditions. A great community fish, they’ll live peacefully with any other non-aggressive fish.

Platies aren’t fussy when it comes to eating. Flake or freeze-dried food, they don’t mind, they’ll also eat any algae which could develop in your tank.

5. Swordtails

Best freshwater fish for beginners bright orange Swordtails swimming against aquarium background with green plants. Soft focus

Image Source

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Males may be aggressive to other males
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Approx. Size: 5″ (including the tail)
  • pH: 7.0-8.0
  • Temperature: 72-82 °F
  • Hardness: 10-20 dGH

This tough guy is often regarded as a ‘beginner only’ fish due to its low demands for water conditions.

Brightly colored, they get their name from their long bottom fin that looks like a sword.

They’re a community fish so they’ll thrive in groups of at least five. You may see males become aggressive and display dominance over each other with posturing, erected fins, circling and mouth-to-mouth wrestling.

Swordtails are omnivores, so you should feed them flake food supplemented with blanched vegetables and live or frozen food.

6. Bristlenose Pleco

Best freshwater fish for beginners Pleco swimming against the bottom of an aquarium

Image Source

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 29 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 3-4 years
  • Approx. Size: 6″
  • pH: 6.0-8.0
  • Temperature: 68-77 °F
  • Hardness: 2-20 dGH

Also known as the Bushynose Pleco, they come in a few different varieties for you to choose from: longfin, albino, and longfin albino.

It’s a hardy fish, which will stand up to a wide range of water conditions.

They’ll also provide you with a cleaning service, they’ll sweep the bottom of your tank eating up any leftover food which could decay at the bottom of your aquarium.

As well as any unwanted algae from the bottom and sides of your tank. Bristlenose Pleco’s enjoy hiding in caves and under driftwood, so providing some hiding places in your aquarium is a must.

7. Kribensis Cichlid

Best freshwater fish for beginners brightly colored Kribensis Cichild, colors include yellow, red, purple, orange, black, and silver
  • Min. Tank Size: 29 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Territorial
  • Lifespan: 5-8 years
  • Approx. Size: 4″
  • pH: 6.0-8.0
  • Temperature: 75-79 °F
  • Hardness: 5-20 dGH

Kribensis is one of the dwarf Cichlid species and are very flamboyant with great coloration. It’s a great option for you as it can tolerate a range of water conditions.

You may read that they can be kept in community tanks, however, I would advise against this. You’d have to be very cautious about who you house them with, and they can become very territorial.

Kribensis Cichlids are omnivorous, so they’ll eat most of what you put in your tank. You can provide them with a varied diet, including cichlid pellets, flake food, and live food.

8. Betta Splendens

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 5 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy – intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful (in the right conditions)
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Approx. Size: 3″
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • Temperature: 75-80 °F
  • Hardness: 5-20 dGH

Not often recommended as a beginner fish due to their aggressive nature. However, if you house them alone you shouldn’t have any problems.

Bettas have spectacular fins and come in a wide variety of bright colors.

They’ll even greet you when you approach the tank! Of course, there’s a lot of misleading content available, you should never keep a Betta in a tank smaller than 5 gallons and it should be heated.

Bettas are carnivores, but will eat flake food along with freeze dried and live foods. You’re able to buy commercial Betta foods.

If you provide what this fish needs, it’s one of the best beginner fish you can go for.

They’re well worth the extra effort.

You can see an in-depth guide on taking care of betta fish here.

9. Dwarf Neon Rainbow Fish

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 40 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Approx. Size: 2-3″
  • pH: 6.5-7.0
  • Temperature: 75-82 °F
  • Hardness: 5-12 dGH

I love this species of fish, I’ve kept them for years. This peaceful little fish prefers to be kept in a group of three or more. 

Males are silver with red fins and are covered with bright blue iridescent scales all along their sides. The bright blue color flashes as they swim along the tank.

This species will need a larger tank, at least a 40 gallon. They are very active swimmers that need a lot of room. Beautiful and hardy, these are great little fish.

10. Cherry Barbs

Cherry barb swimming in planted aquarium

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 30 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 4-6 years
  • Approx. Size: 2″
  • pH: 6.0-7.0
  • Temperature: 75-79 °F
  • Hardness: 4-8 dGH

These peaceful little guys are a joy to watch. They prefer to live in a group of five or more and are very active and social.

Males turn a brilliant red color when they’re trying to woo females. It’s so eye-catching.

They’re a great community fish. A school of cherry barbs will happily live with other small peaceful fish. 

This species will gladly feed on high quality micro pellets and crushed flakes. I recommend a color enhancing food, like Omega One Super Color Flakes, to help provide nutrients that will brighten their red color. 

11. Zebra Loach

Zebra loach

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 40 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 10 years
  • Approx. Size: 4″
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Temperature: 74-79 °F
  • Hardness: 4-8 dGH

This species is a great little cleaner fish that is so much fun to watch. Zebra loaches are very, very social and need to be kept in a group of five or more.

These fish aren’t quite as common as their cousin, the clown loach, but they are a much better choice for most aquariums. Clown loaches are little and cute in the live fish store, but they eventually grow to be over 12 inches long and require at least a 150 gallon aquarium.

By contrast, zebra loaches only get about 4 inches long and can happily live in a 40 gallon tank. 

On top of being great at scouring the tank for leftover food, these fish will also gladly devour any pest snails in your aquarium. But be aware, they will eat ANY snail, even big mystery or nerite snails you want in your  tank.

12. Harlequin Rasboras

A single harlequin rasboars with a distinctive black marking swimming in a planted aquarium

Quick Stats:

  • Min. Tank Size: 10 Gallons
  • Care level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Approx. Size: 1.75″
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • Temperature: 74-82 °F
  • Hardness: 4-10 dGH

These little rasboras are some of the cutest fish you’ll ever see. This species is another schooling fish that needs to be kept in a group of five or more to be happy.

Harlequin rasboras bright coppery color is so gorgeous in person. It’s like the dusky sunset gold you used to see all the time on classic cars.

Harlequin’s are tiny, less than 2 inches long. Make sure you don’t try to mix them with fish big enough to swallow them whole. Even “peaceful” fish will eat tank mates that easily fit in their mouths.

This species can live in a smaller tank, but I highly recommend keeping them in as large a tank as you can manage. More room to swim makes their behavior more interesting.

The Final Word For Beginner Fish Keepers

Pick any of the above, they’re all excellent choices for a beginner hobbyist.

What I will stress, is you should always read up on their needs so you can provide them with exactly what they need.

And I’m sure you want to enjoy them for years to come. Remember, before you go adding any fish to your tank, make sure you’ve cycled your aquarium so it’s a safe environment for you fish.

Christopher Adams
Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher and I'm the creator and editor of this site. I've owned successful aquariums for the past 23 years. My mission is to educate, inform, and entertain on everything that's fish.

7 Comments

  1. Hi, really useful info thank you ? roughly 2 or 3 suggestions are absolutely perfect for my smallish tank and my little mistakes!

    • Hey Albe, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. So happy you’ve found this useful! Wish you all the best. Happy fish keeping.

  2. I’ve raised fish for years when I moved I packed it all up now it’s up & running I’m just looking for fish to cycle my tank. Thanks for the ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.