10 Most Popular Freshwater Fish for Beginners


(Freshwater Aquarium for Beginners Series)

A freshwater aquarium is a surefire conversation piece in any home or public space. But more than just an accent or a decor, it’s a focal point of beauty and a source of serenity. More importantly, an aquarium is where our beloved aquatic pets can thrive and live a full life alongside ours.

For most of us, a freshwater aquarium is like a window into nature, where we can marvel at the richness of life underwater. That’s why it’s not surprising that there are 139.3 million freshwater aquarium fish that are kept as pets nationwide.

So if you’re thinking of setting up a freshwater aquarium in your house, office, or establishment, we suggest you read this article to learn more. Now if you’ve already made up your mind about getting one, then the next step would be to decide the aquarium livestock you’d like to have. 

First, consider the size of your tank against how big the fish is going to get. Second, decide if you want a community tank or a single-species aquarium. Third, your aquarium setup should mimic the natural habitat of your fish as closely as possible. Fourth, check for fish availability and cost to ensure long-term sustainability. Finally, don’t be over-ambitious, choose fish that are easy to take care of and keep alive.

If you’re a first-time aquarist, it’s best to consult a professional rather than DIY. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a high fish mortality on your hands. We offer custom residential and commercial aquarium design services, so you won’t have to stress over the many details that go into an aquarium setup.   

Meanwhile, we’ve lined up some of the hardiest and lowest-maintenance freshwater fish for beginners for you to consider. Read on! 

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There are up to 300 types of goldfish, mostly originating from China. It is hands-down the most popular aquarium fish and with good reason. Goldfish are among the hardiest characiformes and the most varied, at that. They come in many colors, including orange, red, yellow, white, black, brown, and blue-gray. The shubunkin, comet, and Sarasa varieties are best for beginners as these are relatively inexpensive and non-aggressive. These can grow up to 10 inches, on average.  



Originating from Indonesia and Borneo, the clown loach has distinctive orange and black stripes, and bright red or black fins. Its streamlined body looks as if it has no scales at all, but only the head is scaleless, actually. It also has a pointy nose and what looks like whiskers, called barbels. These docile fish can grow up to 12 inches, and are fun to watch as they’re quite active during the day.


Also called danios, the zebrafish is mesmerizing to watch with its black-and-white horizontal stripes, which look as if it’s shimmering. Beginner aquarists love danios for its hardiness, affordability, and availability almost anywhere. Zebrafish have a playful and peaceful nature — they can get along well with five or six different fish species in the same aquarium. Mature danios typically grow up to 2 inches and are prolific breeders. They thrive in shaded open areas of the tank.

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Tetra fish come in 150 different species, and virtually all colors and patterns. Rivaling goldfish in popularity, tetras are ideal for beginner fishkeepers as these require little maintenance and are not picky eaters. They will thrive in a standard tropical freshwater setup, eating almost anything from fish flakes to tiny insects. These active fish like to move around on shoals. Among the most popular are the Black Tetra, Cardinal Tetra, Rainbow Tetra, Neon Tetra, and Blue Tetra.



To date there are around 130 known species of gourami, typically in bright solid colors or color combinations. They come in medium to large sizes, from the usual 2-inch varieties to the 8-inch Kissing Gourami. Generally suitable for community aquariums, these are relatively well-behaved fish with a staple diet of dry flakes or frozen/fresh food. Among the most sought by beginner fishkeepers are the Blue Gourami, Sparkling Gourami, Dwarf Gourami, Pearl Gourami, and Chocolate Gourami.



The swordtail originated in Mexico and Central America, but has been propagated in captivity for a long time. It is characterized by a long and pointed tailfin resembling a sword or dagger,but some are longfin varieties with elongated dorsal or pectoral fins. Swordtails grow to 3 or 4 inches, and come mostly in bright red and orange, blue and black, yellow and gold. These are low-maintenance omnivores that will do well in community tanks. 

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Plecostomus catfish (pleco for short) are a staple in community aquariums and a must-have for beginner fishkeepers. They come in 150 species, mostly in gray, brown, and dark green colors, and camouflage-like patterns. Their defining characteristics are their wide heads and long bodies that have hard bone plates instead of scales. What plecos are best known for, however, are their tank-cleaning abilities, by foraging on algae and food waste that accumulates at the bottom of the aquarium.



Molly fish come in a variety of colors, but mostly in black, white, red, orange, and silver. The most popular among beginner aquarists include the Black Molly, Dalmatian Molly, Sailfin Molly, and Lyretail Molly. Docile and adaptable, mollies are easy to care for and interact well with other species in a community tank. This fish can grow nearly 5 inches and eats anything from fish flakes to frozen food, insects, and even smaller fish or crustaceans.   



Guppy fish are up there in popularity with goldfish and tetra mostly because of its pretty colors and stunning fan-like tailfins. They come in 300 different varieties, all of which are relatively easy to maintain, breed, and keep alive. Adult guppies can grow up to 2 inches and survive up to 5 years. They are an all-time favorite among fishkeepers as they are quite active and social, making them perfect for beginner community tanks.



Belonging to the cyprinid family, the tiger barb is also a favorite among beginner aquarists because of its striking colors. The most popular is the black-striped tiger barb, but the albino (light orange), green, longfin, and neon types are also common. It can grow up to 3 inches, and is quite playful, hardy, and easy to care for. But they do not go well with long-finned fish, which they would chase and nip.

Here’s why you can trust us to build and design your first freshwater aquarium.

Creating a beautiful, safe, and enduring aquatic environment for your freshwater fish is no small feat, so it makes sense to work with a group who has done it time and time again. Our team of experts, led by master craftsman and veteran aquarium designer Jose Blanco, offers custom aquarium design services and produces some of the finest coral and reef inserts on the market—all at prices that novice and experienced aquarium owners alike will appreciate.

Creative Coral Design is an aquarium design and artificial coral and reef fabrication company with more than 40 years’ experience under our belt. Learn more about us and find out how we create some of the most beautiful and functional artificial aquariums and commercial exhibits around. 

Have big ideas for your home or office aquarium? Let us help you turn them into a reality.

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