If you have ever asked the question what is the most popular freshwater fish for aquariums you are not alone. The answer to this though will most likely be determined by your geographical location. For example in Eastern Asia the Koi might be the most popular where in North America it might be the Killifish or Neon Tetra.
Instead of trying to identify the one true most popular freshwater aquarium fish I have thought hard and have compiled a list of what I believe to be the 25 most popular freshwater fish for the home aquarium.
I have compiled this list from my own experiences in the hobby as well as what I see on forums and in my local fish stores as well as other aquarium websites and magazines I read.
Another consideration when coming up with this list is whether the fish is hardy enough that most new hobbyists along with the more experienced ones will be able to care for them easily.
In this article we will look at fish that are tropical as well as cold water fish. The difference between tropical and cold water fish is that Tropical fish require a heater in the tank to replicate healthy water conditions of the Tropical fish whereas cold water fish do not require a heater.
That is not to say that cold water fish cannot thrive with a bit of heat in the aquarium. Let’s get started.
I chose Betta fish for our first fish mainly because of this fishes increasing popularity. Knick named the Siamese fighting fish, the Betta fish flares its fins when in the presence of other Betta’s to try and be intimidating and to even start a battle.
Because of the way retailers display this fish for sale in small containers about the size of a margarine container most newbies to the hobby think it is okay to house these beautiful fish in a tiny aquarium.
I recommend a minimum of 10 gallons for 1 Betta fish. Also do not place more than one Betta together until you learn how males and females get along in this fish species.
Betta’s can be kept with other types of fish such as the Neon Tetra’s listed next.
Neon Tetras are peaceful beautiful small Tropical fish displaying a neon blue color.
Having one or two Neon Tetra’s in a tank is not enough. They are schooling fish and prefer to be in schools of 5 or 6 at minimum. You must consider that when purchasing these fish.
Neon Tetras will typically grow up to an inch long which means you could keep a school of Tetra’s in a small tank. A 10 gallon aquarium could house as many as 10 or more fish which is a very nice size for a school. Or as mentioned above in the Betta section you could have a Betta fish and a school of about 6 or 7 Neon Tetras in a 10 gallon tank.
Tetra’s are omnivore’s so they will eat meat and plant based foods.
There are many different types of Goldfish available for the home aquarium. For example there are different types of Ryukin and Oranda Goldfish as well as Fantail, Black Moor, Calico and other varieties.
Goldfish are great for ponds in the summer time if you don’t have the space for Koi fish.
Some Goldfish will grow as large as 12” long so it is very important to do research on the fish you are selecting to ensure the tank size is appropriate.
Goldfish typically prefer a water temperature range of 65 to 75 F and are peaceful fish that should be kept with other peaceful fish.
When I think of Platy’s I first think of Red Platy’s and assorted Platy’s.
These peaceful vibrant colored fish have a peaceful temperament and will grow as big as 2”.
Platy’s are omnivore’s which means they will eat foods such as freeze dried bloodworms, brine shrimp and commercially preparedflaked foods for omnivores.
Platy’s pefer a planted tank with a water temperature of approximately 64 to 77 Fahrenheit. The Red Platy and other varieties make good companions to Betta fish.
Beautiful and elegant comes to mind when I think of these striking freshwater fish.
There are many different varieties of freshwater angelfish. Some of the more common types are Platinum, Gold veil, Albino, Marble veil and koi angelfish.
Angelfish get quite large so my recommended minimum tank size would be 55 or larger for a pair of these fish if you were adding other fish as well. You could get away with a 30 gallon or a bit larger tank if you just kept a pair of angels in it.
If you are lucky enough to get a female and a male pair you might even be able to coax them to breed.
Angelfish are typically not aggressive fish but will get nippy if they feel threatened or territorial.
Freshwater angelfish are ominvore’s like a few of our previous fish suggestions so would make a nice community tank candidate.
Make sure to keep the angelfish tank water temperature around 75 to 82 Fahrenheit.
Killifish are bright and colorful freshwater fish that originated from the Americas. You will never get bored of the selection of these fish as there are well over 1000 different species of Killifish.
Killis are very hardy fish that should be kept in a tank that has softer water.
For food choices stick to frozen shrimp, bloodworms and flake food for omnivores to ensure a varied diet even though Killifish are carnivores.
Keep your Killifish in a larger tank and buy yourself a school of these beautiful and interesting fish. Most people buy 2 or 3 fish and stop there. They will do very well in a larger school.
If you have no idea what a Kuhli Loach is think tiny little water snake or worm that mainly stays on the bottom of your tank sometimes burrowing into the substrate. Loaches will be more active at night time so if you dim the aquarium lights in the evening you should get to watch your loach in action.
The Kuhli loach is striped and can grow up to 4 or 5”.
You can keep a school of loaches in the tank no problem. These fish are peaceful and always stay to themselves.
Loaches will eat a variety of fish food from flakes and pellets to bloodworms and frozen food.
There are over 900 different species of Cichlids originating from South America and Africa primarily.
Let’s talk about the African Cichlid variety as they seem to be more popular in my local fish stores.
African Cichlids depending on the variety will grow anywhere from 4 to 8” and can live as long as 10 years in captivity.
Cichlids are all semi-aggressive and should only be kept with other cichlids or fish at least the same size or are larger than your Cichlid and are also semi–aggressive fish.
Your Cichlids will do better in a large aquarium.
Feed your Cichlids a combination of frozen and freeze dried foods as well as flaked food and pellets.
Up next are Tiger Barbs which are also semi-aggressive however I wouldn’t say they get quite as aggressive as the Cichlids do. Maybe it has to do with their adult size which usually tops out around 3” long.
If you select Tiger Barbs make sure to purchase a small school as that is how they like to live.
Tiger Barbs will typically live anywhere from 5 to 10 years in captivity.
Make sure to keep their tank water at a temperature in the range of 75 to 80 Fahrenheit.
Even though Tiger Barbs are omnivorous they will accept a variety of food whether it is a meat or plant based food.
Harlequin Rasboras are beautiful little schooling fish that can really spice up the vibe of your aquarium. Rasboras are peaceful omnivores that grow to just under 2” long so having a large school in a smaller tank is definitely a possibility. You could easily get away with having 10 to 12 of these fish in a 30 gallon aquarium if that was all you stalked in the tank.
Rasboras will live about 5 to 6 years in captivity and prefer their tank water in the temperature range of 73 to 82 Fahrenheit.
You can feed your Rasboras frozen foods as well as freeze dried and flaked foods for omnivores.
If there was ever a cute and cuddly catfish this species would be the one. They are mild mannered peaceful fish that dig through the substrate of your tank rummaging for food.
Most Cory Catfish will grow in the range of 3 to 3” long and will live anywhere from 5 to 10 years in captivity.
Cory’s should be kept in small schools. 4 or 5 in 30 gallon tank would do well and would be a treat to watch.
These omnivores will do well when fed a mix of plant and meat based foods whether they are freeze-dried, frozen flakes or pellets. Variety will ensure health Cory catfish.
If you plan on having catfish I would recommend you consider a sand or very tiny rock substrate as catfish do spend a lot of time digging around in the bottom of the tank.
Plecos which are another species of catfish are more commonly called algae eaters because of their large mouths and the way they go through an aquarium eating algae and other small particles off of the glass/acrylic of the tank as well as any wood rocks or structures in the aquarium.
You really have to do your research before bringing a plecostomus home as some species can grow as large as 12 to 14” long and some can even be carnivorous.
Because these fish originated from South America their aquarium water temperature should be kept in the upper 70 to lower 80 Fahrenheit range.
For feeding requirements I recommend researching the food requirements once you have a fish selected at your local fish store.
Rams are a species of the Cichlid family. Let’s talk about German Blue Rams specifically as I think if you can add these to your aquarium you will truly enjoy owning them.
German blue rams are strikingly beautiful fish with multi colors from the cichlid family. Blue rams are peaceful and get along well with other fish species.
These omnivores will grow to approximately 2 ½” and prefer a water temperature in the range of 77 to 82 Fahrenheit.
These fish will pair up with other blue rams. I recommend no smaller than a 30 gallon aquarium for a pair of rams.
Cherry barbs are peaceful omnivores that do well in a planted community tank.
They will grow to about 2” in length and have a sleek body.
One thing I like about these fish is they are typically inexpensive so you can purchase a school of Cherry barbs without breaking the bank.
Cherry’s prefer their water temperature in the range of 74 to 79 Fahrenheit.
The Pearl Gourami is another peaceful omnivore that originated from Borneo, Malaysia and Sumatra. These fish will grow up to a whopping 4” in length and prefer their water temperature in the range of 75 to 86 Fahrenheit.
A darker calmer tank is required for Pearl Gourami’s. The aquarium size should not be less than 30 gallons and if you can I would recommend you go even larger to 50 or more gallons.
One requirement with Pearl Gourami’s is to have some plant coverage floating in your tank but also giving the fish access to the air above if necessary.
Fancy Tail Guppies
Fancy Guppies are a very popular selection at the local fish store. They are easy to take care of and a treat to watch.
Fancy Guppies are omnivores so will eat plant based and meat based fish foods.
Guppies prefer a water temperature in the range of 64 to 82 depending on the variety of Guppy.
You don’t need a huge tank for these fish but I wouldn’t go any smaller than a 20 gallon.
Zebra Danio’s are cool little striped fish that will grow up to 3” long.
Danio’s are schooling fish so make sure to grab 5 or more of these beauties.
You can have zebra Danio’s in a smaller aquarium however I still don’t think you should go any less than 20 gallons.
A half planted tank will help replicate the Zebra Danio’s natural habitat.
Keep the water temperature in the range of 64 to 75 Fahrenheit for these fish.
This freshwater fish can actually live in saltwater as well. When kept in the freshwater tank a teaspoon of saltwater salt is recommended to mix in per gallon of water for optimum health of your molly.
Black mollies are peaceful fish that do great in a community tank. Having plants in the aquarium is recommended for mollies.
They can grow up to 3” in length and require a recommended water temperature of 68 to 82 which gives you quite a bit of options for tank mates because of the water temp range.
Oscars should be kept in a tank with only other Oscars. You can pair them up or have a small school or about 6 Oscars.
Be warned though that these fish get quite large and even though your local fish store has Oscars that are only 4” long they do grow over a foot long.
This means you will need a very large tank if you decide on a school of Oscars.
Oscars are messy fish and poop a lot so you will be doing weekly water changes and frequent cleaning of the bottom of the tank.
Oscars are carnivores so a meat only diet is the way to feed these big fish.
If your goal is to have a nice quantity for schooling fish then you should check out the possibility of purchasing some Hatchet fish. Hatchet fish prefer to be in schools so feel free to buy as many as possible that will fit in your aquarium, use the one inch of fish per gallon rule if you are new to the hobby.
Hatchets will eat flake and pellet food as well as some freeze dried foods.
Hatchet fish will get as big as 3” long and live a short life of approximately 2 years in captivity.
Freshwater water sharks are very small fish that sometimes look similar to the big ferocious sharks of the ocean even though they are not related.
If you go with freshwater sharks do your research on the species you select as some of these fish can easily grow to 12” long, this means that you will need a huge tank.
The bigger these fish get the more territorial they can get so also be aware of that.
Common species found in local fish stores are Columbian shark, Bala shark, Rainbow shark, Red tail sharks among other varieties.
Elephant Nose Fish
The Elephant nose fish got its name because it has a very long nose that looks similar to an elephant’s trunk. The long trunk like feature of this fish is actually its mouth, it is used to forage around on the bottom of rivers for food.
The Elephant nose will grow to be around 8 to 10” in length and will need a fairly large aquarium, I would recommend at least a 50 gallon or larger if you have the space and it is in your budget.
These fish are carnivores and will eat the usual frozen and freeze dried foods as well as flakes and some smaller pellets.
You can keep these fish with other peaceful fish that are as big as the Elephant nose.
Ghost Glass Catfish
Ghost Glass catfish have transparent bodies that display all of their internal organs.
These peaceful fish will grow as large as 3” long and make a great community fish in schools of 6 or more.
Ghost Glass catfish are omnivores and will eat frozen fish food, bloodworms and flake food.
Make sure to supply these fish with a lot of different spaces to hide and retreat to if they get scared. They typically don’t like really bright lights so may hide until nighttime unless you provide some kind of shaded areas.
Silver Dollar Fish
This silver fish looks a bit like a piranha in my opinion. The Silver Dollar fish is actually a very peaceful fish that will grow as large as 6” in length.
Silver Dollar is a great choice for a beginner aquarium hobbyist if you want to have a large fish to start off with as these fish are very easy to care for.
Keep Silver Dollar fish in schools of no less than 3 fish.
I would recommend a tank of around 50 gallons or larger if you are buying a school of these fish. Some experienced fish owners might suggest as small as a 30 gallon aquarium however my experience tells me these big and beautiful fish will need a larger tank because of how active and how much they like to swim back and forth.
The Silver Dollar is a herbivore so will eat all kinds of flake food, pellets and other food for herbivores. When feeding your fish make sure to watch the Silver Dollars to ensure they are getting enough food as some of the quicker more aggressive eaters might get to their food first.
Black Ghost Knife Fish
If you are looking for a very interesting fish then the Black Ghost Knife might be of interest.
A couple of precautions when buying this fish. Black ghost knife fish can get as large as 18” in length so will need a very large aquarium. If you were planning on starting a 100 gallon or larger aquarium then this might be a good choice.
Black Ghost Knife fish are semi-aggressive and prefer a tank with the lighting a bit dimmer than other fish require. They will also require a few places to blend in to the back ground and to hide when necessary.
A carnivore the Black Ghost Knife will eat live food, frozen, freeze dried and flakes.
There you have it my top 25 most popular freshwater fish for the home aquarium. You should be able to find most if not all of these fish at your local fish stores. You can also find fish stores online that will ship fish to your home.
If you have not purchased an aquarium yet then I suggest you go over to my recommended aquariums page to see what tanks I recommend whether it is a small aquarium or a larger one you are looking for.