20 Most Popular Freshwater Fish

20 Most Popular Freshwater Fish

There is something extraordinary watching fish in aquariums. They are relaxing and bring color, nature and beauty into your home. Having pet fish, especially freshwater aquarium fish, is extremely popular with over 12.5 million American households having aquariums, keeping a total of 95.5 million freshwater fish!

With this type of popularity, there is a vast amount of choice when it comes to the kinds of fish for aquariums you can choose. Choosing the best freshwater aquarium fish can be daunting, so the 20 most popular freshwater fish may be of interest to provide the most popular freshwater fish in the fishkeeping industry.

1. Guppies

Two male and one female guppies
Two male guppies and a female.

Guppies are without doubt one of the most popular freshwater aquarium fish. The guppy was officially discovered and recorded in Trinidad in 1866 (although initially overlooked that it was previously discovered before this in America). In any case, the guppy has been around in aquariums for a very long time.

Guppies are popular because they are colourful little fish, who are active swimmers, give birth to live babies and are generally easy to take care of (although due to over breeding they are becoming more sensitive). Guppies make excellent community fish tank mates as they are peaceful fish and get on with most other peaceful community fish. Care should be taken not to keep them with other fish who may nip their fins or be too boisterous.

Also, always try and keep more females than males, as the males will constantly harass the females to mate. Maintaining the right balance of more females to males will ensure your guppies are not too stressed, which makes for happier fish.

2. Neon Tetra

Neon Tetra Close Up
Beautiful Neon Tetra.

This small fish is another stalwart of the freshwater fish tank. Neon Tetras are beautiful and add great splashes of vibrant colour to any peaceful community fish tank. There is also a stunning black neon tetra. Neon tetras come from the Amazon, where they live in large schools. As such, you should always keep no less than six neon tetras in a tank. The more neon tetras you keep, the better as you will then be able to see their real characteristics and have happy fish.

As neon tetras are small fish, you should always be cautious of the fish you keep with them. As a rule, always try and keep peaceful fish with little mouths with neon tetras. Ensure that you have lots of hiding places in your aquarium, especially live plants, as this will ensure that your neon tetras feel safe.

3. Tiger Barbs

Tiger Barb Close Up

I love tiger barbs because they have beautiful colourings, are very active and curious. However, these qualities can also make them a fish to keep with caution in community aquariums or with smaller, slower or long-finned fish!

Tiger barbs need to be kept in groups of at least six as they tend to spare with each other. The more tiger barbs you keep, the more you reduce the potential of bullying behaviour and sparing. Tiger Barbs are very active and fast feeders, making feeding time an absolute joy to watch. They love live foods such as daphnia and brine shrimp, but will also eat flakes (tiger barbs will try and eat just about anything!).

Tiger Barbs Feeding.

4. Platies

Platy Fish

Probably my most favourite fish in freshwater fishkeeping, the platy fish is a beautiful, peaceful, and active fish. They have lovely personalities and will recognise you when you enter the room, especially around feeding time.

Platys are livebearers and will readily breed in most aquariums; in fact, you will not be able to stop them breading. This can be a lot of fun as some baby fish will survive and join the others, meaning that by keeping only a few platys, the group could significantly increase over a short period.

Platys are also excellent algae grazers. They will spend their time picking at and grazing algae all day, keeping your tank clean and algae free.

5. White Cloud Mountain Minnow

White Cloud Maintain Minnow

The white cloud mountain minnow is a small colourful fish that initially came from the streams and rivers of China. Sadly this beautiful little fish is now practically extinct in the wild but is extremely popular in the fishkeeping hobby thankfully, ensuring its long term survival.

The white cloud mountain minnow is an extremely hardy fish and is perfect for beginners as it can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures (you do not need a heater) and water parameters. It is best to keep these little fish in groups of at least 6 or more and make perfect community fish tank mates.

6. Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras Catfish
Green Corydoras Catfish

There is a reason why corydoras catfish (corys) are so popular. Corys have the most amazing personalities and are a joy to watch. They love spending their time using their barbels to find any food or leftovers in the gravel and around plants and rocks. Be careful to not have any sharp objects in the aquarium to ensure that their barbels are protected.

Don’t forget that although corys like to scavenge in the aquarium, you still need to feed them. Try and ensure you provide a well-balanced diet. They love pellets and live foods but will eat most foods that you provide.

Corys do best in groups of at least 6 or more. The more corys, the better as they live in huge groups in the wild.

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7. Oscars

Oscar Fish In Aquarium

Although probably not an ideal fish for most beginners, the Oscar is a fantastic fish to keep. They have giant personalities, and due to their size, you will be able to see what their mood is. Some Oscars are indeed moody, and some are even belligerent, but this is what makes keeping Oscars so much fun. Oscars also recognise you and will form bonds with their owners. They have often been described as having similar traits to dogs.

Oscars tend to make a lot of mess, and as such, will need excellent filtration. Also, Oscars can become very large, very quickly. So they will require large aquariums. As they are so large, you can only keep them with other fish who are at least bigger than their large mouths.

Petting A Large Oscar Fish.

8. Bettas

Blue and White Betta Fish
Male Betta Fish.

When you think of colorful freshwater fish in the aquarium, you will undoubtedly be thinking of the male betta fish. Betta fish sometimes referred to as Siamese Fighting Fish, originate from very slow-moving streams or stagnant waterways in Thailand. Because of this, betta fish can breathe air from the surface of the water, as the water they naturally live in may not be high in oxygen.

Male betta fish are incredibly aggressive with other male betta fish. They should not be kept together in the same tank as they will fight each other to the death or until totally exhausted. Despite this aggression for each other, you need to be cautious of the other fish you keep with male bettas. This is because they have long flowing fins, which may be nipped at or harassed by other faster-moving fish.

As male bettas are generally slow-moving, you must make sure that they have enough food if kept in community fish tanks. It is best to avoid fast-moving and feeding fish.

Bettas are perfect fish for nano aquariums.

9. Harlequin Rasbora

Two Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin Rasboras are beautifully marked little freshwater aquarium fish. Kept in large numbers, harlequin rasboras offer beautiful displays, especially in planted and aquascaped aquariums.

Harlequin rasboras like to spend their time in the mid to top levels of the water column and make great additions to community tanks as they are very peaceful. These fish get along particularly with coys, neon tetras and other peaceful community fish.

Harlequin rasboras will eat flake food, but enjoy well-balanced diets, including live and freeze-dried foods.

10. Mollies

Mollies Fish
Spotted Black Mollie.

Mollies are another popular livebearer due to their amazing colors and peaceful behaviour. Mollies are a little larger than plates and come in vivid colors, with the black molly being a very popular all black fish.

As with other livebearers, it is best to keep more females than males, as males will harass females constantly to mate with them. Mollies love planted tanks and are omnivores. They will graze on algae in the tank, but also need meat-based foods to keep them happy and healthy.

Did you know that mollies can also be kept in saltwater aquariums where they still give birth to live young? It is best to purchase mollies that have been born in saltwater, but it possible to acclimate them very slowly and carefully to saltwater environments.

11. Angelfish


Angelfish have a very beautiful and distinctive shape, which can make exciting additions to your tank.

Saying this, angelfish can be aggressive with each other and boisterous with other fish when pairing, so it may not always be a good addition to a peaceful community tank, especially with very small fish.

Angelfish are fun fish, as they have great personalities and interesting shapes and colors. They look fantastic in planted tanks or aquariums with appealing hardscapes.

12. Zebra Danios

Zebra Danio

Fast-moving, colorful and hardy, the zebra danio is a popular freshwater fish. Zebra danios are great additions to most community fish tanks as they add movement to the top part of the water column. These active fish are peaceful fish, although care should be taken if you want to keep them with slower-moving fish as they may eat all the food.

Zebra danios need to be kept in groups of at least 6 to be happy and remain healthy. The more zebra danios, the better, though to get the most out of their behaviour. Zebra danios like a well-balanced diet and will eat most foods.

It is essential to have a lid on your aquarium as zebra danios are known to be jumpers!

13. Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loach

Kuhli loaches are colourful and unusual looking additions to your fish tank. Best kept in groups, kuhli loaches are nocturnal, meaning they tend to hide during the day. So you may not be seeing a whole lot of them while the aquarium lights are on, but you may catch a glimpse at feeding time and when the lights are off.

Kuhli loaches have long lives and have been known to reach ten years old and can reach sizes of around 5 inches.

These eel-shaped fish require a well-balanced diet, even though they are not always seen. Flakes and pellets should be fine, although they also appreciate live foods.

14. Rainbowfish

Blue Rainbowfish

There are many different types of rainbowfish, typically originating from Australia and Southeast Asia. Rainbowfish usually come from particular regions or even specific river systems or lakes, meaning that every kind of rainbowfish may have precise requirements for care.

Most rainbowfish are fast-moving, yet peaceful fish who do well in large groups. There is something beautiful in seeing a group of colorful rainbowfish swimming in the mid-levels of the water column.

Some of the most popular rainbow fish are the Boesemani rainbow, which is a relatively large fish of around 11 cms when fully grown. A great addition to community fish tanks is the dwarf neon blue rainbow fish.

Although usually very peaceful, rainbow fish can be very active feeders. This means that any slow feeding fish or aquatic frogs may not be suitable tank mates as they may not get enough food.

15. Cherry Barb

Cherry Barb

Cherry barbs are a peaceful barb who have a lovely cherry colour when breeding. These small peaceful fish are perfect additions to peaceful, planted, calm community aquariums.

Cherry barbs must be kept in groups of at least 6 or more to get the most out of their behaviours and keep them happy and healthy.

Cherry barbs are easy to keep and are perfect for beginners. These little omnivores will thrive on a well-balanced diet.

16. Plecostomus

Plecostomus Catfish
Sunshine Pleco.

Plecostomus or plecos are a species of catfish that typically have sucker shaped mouths (great to see while sucking the side of the aquarium glass!) and armour plates over their bodies. Plecos usually can grow very large, so not all plecos are excellent choices for most aquariums. Try and choose a pleco that will not grow very large such as the Bristlenose Plecostomus.

Plecos are great additions to the aquariums clean-up crew as they scavenge leftover food, waste and algae. They also make fantastic focal fish as they stand out as they look prehistoric.

As with all catfish, it is essential to ensure you feed them a well-balanced diet and do not rely on them getting their food only from scavenging.

17. Dwarf Gourami

Dwarf Gouramis

Dwarf Gouramis are bright, colourful little fish, which make excellent additions to most peaceful community aquariums. Like other gouramis, dwarf gouramis have a labyrinth, which is a unique organ that allows them to breathe air.

Dwarf gouramis are best kept in planted tanks; the heavier planted, the better. Planted tanks also make their colors stand out, and the contrasts can be stunning.

There a few different types of dwarf gourami, such as the honey dwarf gourami, blue dwarf gourami and the flame dwarf gourami.

18. Swordtails

Male Swordtail.

Another beautiful livebearer, the swordtail comes in many variations and colors. Originally from Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, these fish have become a very popular aquarium fish. The male swordtail has a long extension from the tailfin, that looks like a sword. You do need to be careful of other fish that may nip the tail.

Typically the male swordtail is more colourful than the female. Female swordtails are easy to breed and are known to have lots of babies over their lifetime.

Swordtails are slightly more aggressive than other livebearers, but can still be kept in most community aquariums.

19. Goldfish

Veiltail Goldfish.

No most popular freshwater fish list could be complete with arguably the most popular fish of them all, the goldfish. Goldfish are popular because they are colorful, active swimmers and fun to watch and feed.

Goldfish do not need heaters but do require excellent filtration as they are very messy and produce a large amount of waste. You will need to keep on top of water quality and ensure that regular water changes are given to ensure your goldfish remain healthy and happy.

20. Discus

Discus Fish

Although not generally a fish for beginners, discus fish are popular. This is due to their beauty, shape, and behaviour. They are also popular as they require a certain amount of skill to keep healthy. It is a wonderful mix of science and creativity, especially when maintaining discus fish in a well-planted, aquascaped aquarium.

Discus fish can grow large, so they will require large aquariums. They like warm waters of between 82° and 86° F, which may be a little warm for some plants, which is an example of the types of balance you will want to strike when keeping discus fish.

Discus fish come in many different color variations and are, without a doubt, some of the most beautiful freshwater fish.

Excellent Care Guide On Keeping Discus Fish.


The 20 most popular freshwater fish demonstrates just how wonderfully diverse freshwater fish for aquariums are. Freshwater fish come in many different sizes, colours, shapes and skill level requirements. This wide choice means that you can select fish that are perfect for the aquarium environment you want to create.

Before purchasing any fish, always ensure you do as much research as possible and try not to rush the process. Often taking your time, researching and learning from experience is far more rewarding than rushing.

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