Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners | 2022 Reviews

Are you a newbie aquarist looking to start an aquarium of your own? It can be intimidating to get out there and start raising fish when you don’t know what you’re doing. What if you choose the wrong fish?

The truth is, in aquatics, it is incredibly easy to pick the wrong fish. You might choose fish that are incompatible with each other. Alternatively, you may not fully understand the water parameters for all of the fish you put into your tank, causing problems.

When you first get started, one of the best things you can do is familiarize yourself with some of the best beginner fish there are. These species are typically much hardier than many other options and will be able to endure common novice mistakes.

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

If you’re ready to start planning out your very first aquarium, one of the best things you can do is choose out hardy, beginner-friendly fish. The fish that we will go over shortly are perfect for the role. These are tried and true options for beginners to ensure that your tank thrives.

Betta Fish

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 75-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons

pH level: 6.8-7.5

Bettas are the quintessential beginner’s fish. They are beautiful and can endure even some of the worst water parameters out there. However, just because they can survive just about anything doesn’t mean that you should expose them to the worst.

For optimal health, bettas should have a heated and filtered tank with at least 5 gallons in volume. Though they get a bad reputation for being aggressive, this is only true with other bettas of the same sex or long-finned fish. They do quite well in community tanks with small, non-aggressive fish that won’t nip their fins, such as tetras.

Bristlenose Pleco

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 73=80F

Minimum Tank Size: 25 gallons

pH level: 6.5-7.5

Bristlenose, or bushy nose, plecos are simple to care for and serve a vital role in any aquarium. They tend to feed on algae that may grow in your tank. However, they are also quite large and can grow up to six inches in length.

Thanks to their hardiness, they are an excellent option for beginners who want their tanks free from algae. Keep in mind that they also enjoy having high filtration levels and plenty of places to hide, such as driftwood. These herbivorous fish are nocturnal and love to tuck away for the day in dark spots.

Keep in mind that your tank will likely not grow enough algae to sustain a pleco on its own. You will need to supplement with herbivorous sinking pellets or pieces of vegetables.

Cherry Barb

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 73-81F

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

pH level: 6-8

Cherry barbs are brightly colored fish that many novice aquarists choose for their vivid color and schooling behavior. Because cherry barbs school, they require larger tanks to accommodate their needs. However, they are also quite friendly and do well in community tanks.

You will need to keep at least 6 for a happy, healthy school. When you keep them in smaller schools, they tend to become skittish and less active. They should also have many places that they can hide. These active fish will even tolerate major swings in parameters, making them hardy as well.

Cory Catfish

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 72-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 7.0-8.0

Cory catfish, commonly called the cory cat, are fantastic additions to beginner’s tanks. They are voracious eaters that love to eat away at algae. However, they will eat just about anything.

Cory catfish live for up to 20 years, so plan accordingly. They are also communal and require schools of at least 3, though more is always better. Thanks to their peaceful nature, they will even live well in just about any community tank.


Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 70-78F

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

pH level: 7.0-7.8

Danios come in many shapes and sizes, making them a desirable option for many. Thanks to their hardiness, they can endure beginner’s mistakes. And, since they tend to be quite active, they become an enjoyable addition to most tanks.

Keep in mind that danios require schools. You will need at least 5 or 6 of the same species to keep them happy and healthy. Upkeep is simple, and they are content with a diet of fish flakes.

Kribensis Cichlid

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 75-80 F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 5.6-7.0

While many cichlids are not recommended for beginners, the kribensis cichlid is an exception to the rule. They are quite adaptable and tend to be easy for novices. However, they do not do well when kept with more than one male.

These cichlids enjoy having plenty of hiding spaces throughout the tank. They are peaceful and will get along with many other fish. However, they have a tendency to nip at fish with long fins.

Kuhli Loaches

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 75-86F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 5.5-7.0

Kuhli loaches are an interesting addition to any novice tank. Their slender bodies and eel-like movements make them quite desired for some variety. And, thanks to their relatively small size and peaceful nature, they work well in just about any environment.

Kuhli loaches stick to the bottom of tanks and tend to hide when they can. Keep in mind that these fish do best in groups of at least three at a time.


Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 70-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

pH level: 6.8-8.5

Platies come in just about every color imaginable, making them a great way to introduce a peaceful splash of color. They are perfect in just about any community tanks with other non-aggressive fish. These fish are also quite hardy, making them suitable for beginners.

Platies tend to do well on just about any diet. However, they are known for prolific breeding when you have males and females together. They give birth to live young, typically eaten by other tankmates if you don’t remove the mother to give birth in a separate tank.


Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 65-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons

pH level: 7.0-8.4

With their long, swordlike tails, swordtails make exciting additions to tanks. These fish are quite hardy and are peaceful as well. Depending upon the species, these fish can grow up to 5.5 inches long.

These fish require five or more schools, which requires substantial tank size. One swordtail requires at least 15 gallons, with an additional 5 gallons for every additional swordtail. You may also need additional filtration to create the stronger water flow these fish are accustomed to.

Swordtails also give birth readily to live young within the tanks. Unless you separate the pregnant mother before birth, your fry will likely be eaten by others in the tank.


Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 75-80F

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

pH level: 6.8-7.8

Tetras come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. Thanks to their usually-calm demeanor, you can usually find the right fish for any tank. Keep in mind that these fish do require schools of 5 or more.

The smallest tetras will need at least 10 gallons, while some will require substantially larger. The most common breeds for beginners include serpae, bloodfin, red eye, neon, lowlight, or lemon tetras.

White Cloud Minnow

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Temperature: 64-72F

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

pH level: 6.0-8.0

White cloud minnows are popular options for people who don’t want to keep tropical fish. These coldwater fish are beautiful while being easy to care for at the same time. They tend to be lower maintenance than tropical fish, making them desirable for those beginners that don’t want to dabble with keeping a tropical tank.

These fish are schooling and require at least five or more of the same species for optimal happiness. They do well with many other non-aggressive coldwater fish. They are known to breed readily, though eggs are regularly eaten.

What Makes a Fish Beginner Friendly

When you choose fish for your tank, there are five key components that every beginner should consider. Each component helps ensure that you find the right fish for your tank, budget, and skillset.

Compatibility with Other Fish

Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider is compatibility with your other fish. Not all tropical fish are compatible with each other, either due to water parameters or temperament. Keeping this in mind helps you to avoid unnecessary losses.

Compatibility requires you to look at behavioral tendencies for all fish in your aquarium. You will want to consider whether any fish in your tank may see others as potential snacks or as competition for territory. For example, Bettas are notoriously incompatible with other long-finned fish, such as angelfish.

Your fish must also require overlapping parameters. For example, you shouldn’t pair a school of white cloud minnows with kribensis cichlids, which require warmer water.

Easy to Care for

Not all fish are made equal, and not all fish are easy to care for. Some fish are notoriously finicky and require the perfect environment to survive. These fish tend to be quite challenging to care for, especially for beginners.

When choosing fish for your tank, make sure you pick fish that are easy to care for. Generally speaking, the wider-ranged parameters a fish has, the easier they are to care for because they aren’t as sensitive.


Hardiness is another essential consideration. For example, Bettas are hardy enough to endure some terrible water parameters without dying. By choosing hardy species, you select fish that will be durable enough to survive any mistakes you may make.

Hardy species tend to endure stress, disease, or imperfections in your water better than others. If you want the best shot at success, choosing hardy fish matters.

Size Fish Will Grow To

When considering how you can stock your aquarium, you need to look to the full-grown size of all fish you choose to keep. The general rule with aquarium keeping is that for every 1 inch of fish, you need 1 gallon of water to have enough to dilute waste to appropriate levels.

Another important consideration related to size is whether fish will bully or eat each other. Try to avoid predatory fish that are large enough to eat their smaller tankmates.


Finally, the best beginner fish don’t break the bank. This is important because most beginners lose some fish while their tanks cycle and while they learn how to maintain water quality. Cheaper fish are easier to replace.

Some of the most expensive tropical fish can run hundreds of thousands of dollars per fish. On the other hand, cheaper, beginner-friendly options are usually just a few dollars per fish, making them much more affordable.

Worst Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Many beginners make the mistake of selecting fish that look great but are challenging for novices. Whether they need large tanks, don’t play well with others, or are difficult to keep alive, there are several fish that beginners should avoid.



Temperature: 78-84F

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

pH level: 6.5-7

Angelfish are gorgeous, making them popular choices in aquariums. However, these fish are aggressive toward other angelfish. You will need to keep either a breeding pair or a large group to prevent bullying.

These fish are also particularly sensitive and need a very specific water quality. They may become common victims of nippy fish that can injure or kill them. Because of their size, they require larger tanks, adding extra maintenance.

Bala Shark

bala shark

Temperature: 72-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 125 gallons

pH level: 6.0-8.0

Bala sharks are quite impressive to see. Their silvery scales flash in the light, and they are quite active. While juveniles are small, they usually grow for several years, up to 13 inches in length.

Because of their size, they can be challenging to keep for beginners. They also are known to eat invertebrates or small fish that can fit into their mouths. These fish have to be kept in larger schools of four or more. If you can’t feasibly keep four fish that are larger than 12 inches, you should skip them.



Temperature: 75-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 90 gallons

pH level: 6.2-7.8

While bichirs may look appealing, they are also complicated to keep. This is in part due to their aggressive, predatory behaviors. Some species can grow to be 20 years old and 30 inches long.

If you want to keep bichirs, you should be well-equipped to handle their specific needs. If they are kept with other fish, it is not uncommon for them to starve as they miss out on food. When hungry, they then choose to eat their tankmates instead.

Clown Loach

clown loach

Temperature: 77-86F

Minimum Tank Size: 150 gallons

pH level

Despite their popularity, clownfish are not particularly suitable for beginners. Though small at first, they can grow to be 12 inches long and require at least five loaches together, meaning they need a massive tank. These fish are typically relatively peaceful, but they are difficult to keep alive.

Clown loaches have thin scales, making them a bit less resilient than many others. They tend to be more prone to infections and injuries and can absorb toxins easier than other fish.



Temperature 82-86F

Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons

pH level: 6.0-7.0

Discus certainly look impressive in aquariums, but they can also be challenging to care for. These generally-calm fish can also become aggressive during spawning. These fish also prefer much warmer water than most other tropical fish, making it challenging to pair them with other species. Because these fish get to be so large, they require large aquariums that can be difficult to manage.

The discus tends to require precise water parameters, which can add complications. They require significant water treatment and matching the chemistry very closely to the water they were raised in. If their water is not kept pristine, they struggle.

Dwarf Plecos

dwarf plecos

Temperature: 77-84F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 5.5-7.5

Many people think choosing dwarf plecos is a better option than full-sized ones, but they are still somewhat hard to manage despite their smaller stature. These fish only grow to be a few inches long but require warmer water than many other tropical fish.

These fish are usually pretty easy to find in fish stores but should be avoided until you have a solid understanding of what they will need. They typically require supplementation of algae wafers because most well-established tanks do not develop enough algae to keep them satisfied.



Temperature: 68-74F

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

pH level: 7.0-8.4

Despite their reputation as easy fish that can live in small bowls, they are not recommended for beginners. They require much larger tanks than most people assume and need plenty of filtration. While they usually will fare well without a heater, they still need their water to be kept up with regularly.

When well cared for, these fish can live for up to 15 years. They require plenty of water changes due to the amount of waste they excrete. Most beginners struggle to keep these tanks healthy.



Temperature: 74-82F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 7

Guppies were once recommended for beginners but have since been bred commercially. They are inbred so much that they have become quite weak. These fish struggle to fend off diseases and are quite easy to kill unintentionally. You also have to account for breeding within the tank, as these livebearers are well-known for quickly populating tanks when kept with the opposite sex.

These fish are usually raised commercially in salty water, so they struggle to adapt when they are moved to your freshwater tank. Since you can’t know the chemistry of the water that these fish were raised in, it becomes difficult to mimic the optimal conditions for them.



Temperature: 75-80F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 7.5-8.5

Mollies are regularly listed as good starter fish but are relatively sensitive to disease. These fish are commonly infected with parasites, suffer from ich, dropsy, and many other diseases. Because these fish thrive in brackish water, they are not good beginner fish.

Mollies also require larger tanks to be comfortable, and they must be kept in schools. These livebearing fish are commonly brought home already pregnant, and you will then have to deal with either trying to save the fry or the aftermath of them dying in your tank.



Temperature: 74-78F

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

pH level: 7.0-7.6

Pufferfish do not deal with stress well and require specific fish tank parameters. These fish usually require larger tanks and tend to be aggressive with other fish. They also have a particular diet that can be difficult for many beginners to provide.

Pufferfish come in many different varieties, but the vast majority of them are not well-suited for beginners or community tanks. Many people believe they are a good solution for snails because they tend to eat them, but as soon as the snails are gone, they turn on tankmates. The largest pufferfish can also require tanks of over 100 gallons, so these aren’t always the most beginner-friendly options.

Final Thoughts

Starting your aquarium for the first time is an exciting time. Planning out the right fish that are beginner-friendly and compatible with each other will help ensure that your first steps into aquatics are enjoyable. Being able to watch your tank flourish can be immensely satisfying and is what most aquarists strive for.

When you select your fish, remember to consider your abilities, water parameters, and each fish’s hardiness. Setting yourself up for success is the best way to start getting the experience necessary for fish that require more finesse. 

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Best freshwater fish for beginners

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