Best Aquarium fish for beginners

Some fish are great for beginners, but others have complicated requirements and are going to be frustrating to keep.

  • Need to be hardy, not so concerned about water nitrates or chemistry.
  • Small, happy to live in 10-30g tank
  • Community fish, not overly scared, or aggressive.

Here are some of the best choices for a beginners aquarium. By the time you have experimented with several of these species, you will have learnt more about various fishes, and hopefully studied up on compatibilities and water chemistries.

When choosing fish, also be aware that many fish have a preferred position in the tank.  If you only buy bottom-dwelling fish, your tank will be half empty.  Check where fish like to live while in the store, and imagine how they will appear with the others in your tank.

Remember also the rule of 1 inch of fish per gallon of tank.  (7mm of fish per litre). This applies especially to typical rectangular prism type tanks,  as the maximum fish capacity relates more to the surface area of the tank than to the volume.

If you feel that you would like to see your fish breed, start off with some of the livebearers, as they have much more success in community tanks.  Be aware, though, if there are fry (baby fish) around, most of the adult fish will try to eat them.  Few fish are truly vegetarian, and most will eat any small fish which fit into their mouths.



  • Livebearer
  • Very hardy
  • Prolific breeders
  • Males are especially colorful
  • Fine in small tanks
  • Good with live plants.


Mollies, Swordtails and platys. 

  • Livebearers
  • Variety of interesting colors and shapes
  • Keep plants clean of algae.


Betta. (Siamese Fighting Fish)

  • Very colourful and attractive, with fantastic fins on the males.
  • Males must be kept separate to avoid fights
  • Breath air at the surface, so bubbler not required
  • May be kept in small containers, but remember to change the water regularly, and make sure it’s warm enough. (Pad heaters popular for betta tanks)
  • Males build and maintain bubble nests
  • Easy to breed, but need supervision to avoid injury to female. (Remove her after eggs laid.)



  • Diverse group with species of various sizes.
  • Schooling fish.
  • Fast and very active
  • Robust, easy to breed
  • Stay in the top of aquarium.
  • Zebra danios especially recommended due to attractive colouration and small adult size.



  • Another diverse group great fish with amazing colours.
  • Schooling habits and great with plants.
  • Neon tetras are small and very popular.
  • Cardianal Tetras look similar to neons, but longer red strip and a little larger
  • Rummynose Tetras have a red face with a white and black tail.
  • Ember tetras are red.
  • Larger tetras such as Black Skirt Tetra are more hardy than others but will bite other fish.




Corydoras  (Cory Catfish)

  • Small, active, but don’t look very smart.
  • Clean the bottom of the tank.
  • Like to be part of a small group.
  • Like fine grained substrate such as sand, not coarse gravel.
  • Also the similar upside down catfish, although it cleans plants more than substrate


Bristlenose Pleco

  • Like cory catfish, these are active bottomfeeders
  • Clean algae from substrate and plants
  • Named for the interesting bristles on their noses.
  • Be careful of the species you purchase, as some plecos can grow very large.




  • Diverse group of small schooling fish.
  • Peaceful, hardy, generally small.
  • Recommended species are Harlequin Rasbora, Dwarf Rasbora.


Dwarf Gourami

  • Have a labyrinth, and can actually breath air from the surface.
  • Prefer mid-to upper levels of the tank.
  • Peaceful and perfect for community tank, but may be attacked by more aggressive fish where present.
  • Blue, or Three Spot Gourami are slightly larger than the dwarfs, and slightly more aggressive.



  • Attractive and graceful fish.
  • Larger than most of the beginner’s recommendations, and should be kept in a tank at least 30 gallons as they like to swim around in open areas.
  • Grow to around 20cm tall.
  • Hardy, and easy to keep. Will eat very small fish.
  • Prefer slow moving water.



  • Attractive interesting and hardy.
  • Numerous varieties available.
  • Rosy Barbs and Gold barb are highly recommended.
  • Tiger Barbs are very available, but they may bite other fish.
  • Make sure to get one of the smaller species as some barbs can reach more than 50cm in length.


Kribensis Cichlid

  • Attractive with great colouration.
  • Very small and peaceful for a Cichlid.
  • OK for a community tank, but may stake out territory when breeding and be very protective of babies.
  • Can fight amongst themselves.


Rainbow fish.

  • Especially good on their own in a planted tank.
  • Like flowing water.


For community tanks I like to get a selection of fish in order to balance out the various niches, the exact number and type will depend on the size and style of the tank.

  • A couple of bottom feeders such as Bristlenose plecos or Cory Catfish.
  • A group of smaller mid -upper tank schooling fish such as Tetras, Danios, Rasboras or Guppies.
  • Some slightly larger feature fish for the aquarium. Barbs, Gourami’s, Angel fish or Rainbowfish are perfect.

For smaller tanks, this may be too many fish.  In that case I would suggest skipping the slightly larger ones, and using your schooling fish as the feature.

Alternatively, and highly recommended:  Set up a species tank with abundant plants and either,

  • Bottom dwellers and a group of Rainbowfish
  • Tetras and a group of Kribensis. (Kribensis breed easily in caves on the substrate, and don’t appreaciate catfish or bristlenose approaching)

Whichever fish you choose to start with, be sure to research their particular preferences for water chemistry, food, and environment.  The better you match these variables with your fish, the less likely they are to suffer and get ill.

If you have any queries or concerns, feel free to ask them here.