Creating an underwater paradise all of your own can be immensely satisfying. Now is the perfect time to start if you’ve been dreaming of diving into the world of aquariums. Unfortunately, deciding which fish to get can overwhelm many beginner aquarists.
We compiled this list of the 15 best aquarium fish for beginners to help you start. From the hardy goldfish to the vibrant betta, these beginner aquarium fish will add life and color to your new tank!
There’s a reason why the goldfish is perhaps the most recognizable fish in existence. These iconic pets are hardy, easy to take care of and live relatively long.
There are many variants of goldfish out there. You have the common goldfish, which is the usual idea people have when you say guppies. There are also fancy varieties with long, flowing fins, such as the Comet, the Ryukin, and the Oranda.
Goldfish thrive in cooler waters, meaning you can keep them in unheated tanks. They prefer a pH of 7-8 and temperatures around 65°F to 72°F.
One thing you need to watch out for is your tank’s bioload. Goldfish produce a lot of waste, so ensure you have proper filtration to keep the tank clean.
Bettas are tropical fish initially endemic to the calm waterways of the Mekong and are particularly numerous in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. These small, colorful fishes are notorious for being aggressive towards other fish, hence the nickname “Siamese fighting fish.”
Bettas don’t need much in terms of maintenance. They can be housed in relatively small aquariums, especially if they’re the sole occupant. In fact, they’re often touted as one of the best fish for a 5-gallon tank.
However, they do best when kept in a 10-gallon planted tank, with some hiding spots and driftwood for decoration. Compatible tank mates include invertebrates such as shrimp and snails.
Additionally, because they’re labyrinth fish, they can breathe air from the surface. This means they can technically live without a filter or an air bubbler, although that setup is still ideal.
Remember that if you live in a cold-weather climate, you’ll also need a heater, as these fish prefer balmy waters. The optimal water temperature of Betta fish is at least 75°F and should always be kept consistent.
Guppies are small, lively fish that can add a splash of color to any tank. They come in an array of vibrant hues and patterns. Best of all, they don’t require too much maintenance, making them an excellent option for beginner aquarists.
Guppies should be kept in groups of at least six to prevent them from becoming stressed and agitated. They’re best suited for a planted aquarium of around 15-20 gallons, with temperatures hovering between 72°F to 82°F.
Their peaceful demeanor means they’re great community fish that can live with other non-aggressive freshwater fish species. They can also be housed in a single-species tank if it meets their requirements.
However, keep in mind that these fish are livebearers. They reproduce rather quickly, so if you don’t want them to overcrowd your tank, it’s best to go all-male or all-female.
Mollies share the same genus as guppies, and that’s because they’re genetic cousins that diverged from a common ancestor. As such, they share many similar traits: both are livebearers, require a school to thrive, and prefer warm waters.
Like the guppy, the molly fish comes in different colors and patterns. Some of the most common variants for beginner fish keepers include the Short-Fin, the Sailfin, and the Lyretail.
A little fun fact: mollies are known for something called the “shimmies,” which is when they suddenly start moving their bodies in side-to-side slithering motion. It may sound amusing, but it’s actually a stress response that should stop once conditions improve in the tank.
Tetras are some of the easiest fish to care for beginners. They’re trendy in the beginner fishkeeping community due to their small size and bright colors.
These schooling fish need to be kept in groups of at least five individuals, as they tend to feel vulnerable when kept alone. Make sure you provide them with plenty of hiding spots to keep their stress levels low.
Due to their activity levels, Tetras do best in a sizable tank of at least 20 gallons. However, some smaller varieties, such as the Neon Tetra, are ideal fish for a 10-gallon tank. The key to keeping them comfortable is to add lots of hiding spots and plants, as these can make them feel safer and more secure.
Tetra varieties that do well in beginner setups include Cardinals, Rummy-noses, and Embers.
Danios are zippy, tropical freshwater fishes native to South and Southeast Asia. They’re active swimmers that can bring life and color to any freshwater aquarium.
Danios are an excellent choice for beginner aquarium owners because they are easy to care for. This hardy, albeit small, fish isn’t sensitive to temperature. They can thrive in unheated tanks as long as the room temperature is consistent. With proper care, they can live up to five years.
They have a vast range of colors, from bright blues to yellows and greens. Popular options include Zebra Danios, Giant Danios, and Pearl Danios. Don’t confuse it with the Celestial Pearl Danio, which isn’t a danio at all but rather a distant cousin.
Like other schooling fish, they must also be kept in groups with at least five individuals. If the numbers are too low, they can become stressed or territorial.
The Rasbora fish is an excellent option for aquarists of any experience level. These peaceful freshwater aquarium fish are native to South and Southeast Asia. However, they have been popular in the aquarium trade for decades.
Rasboras are hardy and adaptable fish that are comfortable in cool and warm water as long as they are well-oxygenated.
Like most other fish with schooling behaviors, rasboras, including the popular Harlequin rasbora, should be kept in groups of at least five to reduce stress levels and promote activity. Like danios, they’re active swimmers.
They’re also a fantastic choice for community tanks due to their small size and peaceful temperament. They prefer planted tanks because it helps them feel secure and gives them plenty of hiding spots.
Barbs are another fantastic choice for first-time aquarium owners. They’re easy to care for and come in various colors, making them an ideal addition to any aquarium, especially if you have zero experience.
They are many barb varieties, each differing wildly in temperament, appearance, and size, which can affect whether they’re suitable for beginners.
For instance, barbs are usually 2.5-6 inches long. Cherry barbs don’t usually exceed 2.5 inches, but Tinfoil barbs can reach lengths of 10 inches or more. Obviously, Cherry barbs are more fitting for beginner aquarists, along with Tiger barbs, Rosy barbs, and Gold barbs, which are more aggressive than the other three.
Regardless of the variety, these energetic schooling fish must be kept in groups of at least 5-6 individuals and given plenty of hiding spots to reduce stress levels and encourage their natural behaviors.
You may be familiar with the term “minnow” since it’s used to refer to various freshwater fish found throughout the United States, especially by fishing enthusiasts.
For beginner aquarium owners, though, the most suitable kind of minnow is the white cloud mountain minnow. This is a small, peaceful fish originating from East Asia.
White clouds are pretty small, rarely growing larger than 1.5 inches. They’re schooling fish that enjoy being with other white cloud minnows, so make sure your tank is big enough to support them. You can keep 5-7 individuals in a 10-gallon aquarium. They should ideally be in a 20-gallon-long tank with dense vegetation and driftwood.
Interestingly, white cloud minnows prefer cooler waters than many other freshwater fish. Because of this, some pet stores sell them as compatible companions to goldfish, another cool-water fish. However, this isn’t a good idea. Goldfish can grow very large, and since white clouds typically stay small, they can easily get eaten by adult goldfish.
Gouramis are another popular fish species for newbie aquarium owners. They’re endemic to South and Southeast Asia and can be found in lakes or slow-moving streams and rivers.
So far, scientists have discovered over 130 species of gourami. Each one is unique, from its personality to its colors and patterns.
Some of the most common options for beginners include Pearl gouramis, Sparkling gouramis, and Honey gouramis. These variants tend to be smaller and not aggressive, so you don’t need to worry about compatibility.
Gouramis are best kept in pairs or small groups since they’re peaceful fish that tend to school together. Ten gallons should be good enough for two gouramis below 4″ each. However, it’s always better to go up in size if you can.
Platy fish, also called platies, are a small but colorful freshwater species. Originally hailing from Central America, they have been in the aquarium trade for over a century. They sport various colors and patterns, including gold, red, yellow, green, and blue.
Platies reach an average adult size of 2-3 inches, making them an ideal choice for smaller aquariums. Some of the most uncomplicated variants to take care of include the Blue Wag platy, the Red Wag platy, and the Sunburst platy.
Regarding water parameters and chemistry, platies are hardy and quick to adapt. They can tolerate temperatures ranging from 65°F-82°F with a pH of 7.5-8.5. They do well in both planted and unplanted tanks. Of course, additional hiding places should be provided if there’s no vegetation in the tank, as platies like to hide sometimes.
Platies are social and playful, but they do suffer from gender-related aggression. To keep your platies calm and comfortable, ensure you only have one male for every 2-3 females.
Plecos, short for plecostomus, is a type of armored catfish commonly kept as a companion to many fish species. They’re so resilient that many aquarists don’t bother catering to their needs inside the aquarium. After all, they can adapt to whatever their tank mates’ needs are.
There are hundreds of pleco species, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Still, the best option for beginner aquarium owners is the Bristlenose pleco.
Bristlenose plecos are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. They may nibble on the algae in your tank but enjoy live and frozen food, such as bloodworms and tubifex worms.
These scaly fish love hiding, so you should provide plenty of places to do so, like driftwood, caves, or rocks. They’re generally peaceful, but they can be territorial around other plecos. It’s best to keep one individual per tank unless your aquarium is large enough for more.
For newbie aquarium owners looking for a stress-free pet that won’t require too much work – look no further than the charming little Otocinclus. Commonly known as Otos, they’re small, algae-eating fish that can make an interesting addition to any freshwater fish tank.
These South American natives have long, slender bodies with colors ranging from brown, gray, black, and yellow. They rarely exceed 2″ in length, making them a great addition to nano tanks.
Like plecos, they also like hiding behind the hardscape in your aquarium. They’re happiest when there is plenty of algae to snack on. Still, other food, such as zucchini or cucumber, should also be provided to maintain balanced nutrition.
Otos thrive in slightly acidic water with a pH level ranging from 6.5-7.2 and temperatures between 70°F-81°F. These peaceful schooling fish should be kept in groups of at least three individuals so they can swim together without feeling threatened.
Corydoras, commonly called Cory catfish or simply Corys in fishkeeping circles, are bottom-dwelling scavengers best kept in small groups of at least six individuals. They’re native to South America but have been frolicking around aquariums for a long time.
Corys are best kept with other community tank species that appreciate the same water conditions. Not only are they fun to watch, but they also require low maintenance.
They can tolerate a range of pH and temperature, making them perfect for beginners just starting out with an aquarium and wanting a stress-free experience.
As bottom-feeders, they enjoy snacking on sinking pellets, bloodworms, and other tasty treats. If available, they will also graze on algae so they can be part of your aquarium’s cleanup crew.
Many Cory species exist, but the best ones for aquarium newbies include Pandas, Peppers, and Bandits.
Cichlids refer to an ever-growing family of bony fish found worldwide. As of this writing, the number of identified cichlid species is around 1300-1700, with scientists estimating as high as 2500.
Obviously, there’s a big range of care levels and requirements regarding cichlids. Some species are best kept in a large, specialized tank, while others do well with a basic setup and minimal upkeep. Some of the easiest cichlids for beginner fishkeepers are Angelfish, Bolivian Rams, and Firemouths.
No matter which types you choose, all cichlids need a few things to be happy: regular 10%-20% water changes, space for swimming, and suitable tank mates, if you decide to give them any.
What Makes a Good Beginner Aquarium Fish?
Now we know the best aquarium fish for beginners, but what are the characteristics of beginner-friendly fish?
- Hardy: A fish adaptable to different water conditions will be easier to care for than one with particular needs.
- Tolerant of beginner mistakes: Newbies always make mistakes when feeding and doing water changes. A fish that will get sick if you do one thing wrong is best left to experienced hobbyists.
- Peaceful: Unless you plan on setting up a species-specific tank, it’s best to stay with mild-mannered fish. Aggressive fish can hurt their tank mates or worse. Most beginners are not skilled enough to manage these situations.
- Require minimal equipment: Not all beginners are willing to shell out money for a complex filtration system. Fish that can get by with a simple filter and tank setup is better for new hobbyists.
- Resistant to diseases: All fish can get diseases, but those particularly prone to getting sick shouldn’t be in the care of a novice.
- Don’t grow too large: There are some exceptions, like the goldfish, but in general, you want manageable fish because they tend to have more specific needs and care requirements.
- Not a picky eater: Fish with complicated diets need skilled aquarists. Beginner-friendly fish will eat commercially prepared fish food, which is widely available.
At the end of the day, keeping an aquarium is a rewarding and enjoyable experience that can bring a lot of joy to many people. And without a doubt, these aquarium fish for beginners are your ticket to a fun and healthy aquarium that will delight and inspire you for years to come.
With the proper tank setup and care routine, you’ll be able to create a beautiful aquarium that’s full of life. So, what are you waiting for? Start exploring and make your underwater dreams come true!
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock /dien