There are lots and lots of different fish on the market today. You can even walk into a pet store such as PetSmart and see all sorts of fish crammed into a wide number of tanks. However, figuring out what fish are good ones to take home even though you are a complete beginner isn't easy. You will get a lot of conflicting information and the fish store or the pet store are likely to give you bad information. Here are the top ten fish for beginners, but you should take into account a number of things before purchasing them.

Where to Get Your Fish

If you buy your fish from a pet store or fish store you will need to be prepared for them to get sick or die on you. Even a fish that is normally hardy might not make it because often fish from stores are stressed. Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy fish from the store if they look well cared for, if they aren't really crowded, and that there are no dead fish in the tank you want to buy from.
  • If possible, buy fish from a local breeder. You can do this by contacting any fish clubs in the area.
  • If you need to you can find fish online. They are often healthy fish that are shipped out and as long as the breeder does a good job with their care and shipping they will arrive at your door alive and ready to live a long life.

Your Tank Conditions

When choosing fish it is really important that you consider your water conditions (hard, soft, or in between) as well as the size of the tank. You want to make sure that you don't over stock your tank. It is a good idea to go for the biggest tank that you have space for and can afford. By going with a larger tank you will be able to get more fish in it and it is easier to keep the water quality up with less work.

Cycling Your Tank

It is also important to make sure you cycle your tank. If you are using fish to cycle your tank then you will want to only add a couple of fish at a time. You should make sure that you are also choosing good fish to cycle with.  

1. Bettas

You can often find colorful bettas at pet stores, fish stores, and even Walmart. They are usually alone in a little cup and looking sad and even pathetic. These fish are also called fighting fish and Siamese fighting fish. These littler fish are a great choice for many people. However, it is usually easiest to put a single betta in a tank. They can stay in smaller bowl or dish, but you will find it easier to keep water levels stable in a small tank. We use 2.5 to 5 gallons per betta. If you are interested at putting a betta in a community tank you should check out these articles for males and females.  

Male Betta
Credit: The Freshwater Reef

2. Dwarf Gouramis

These fish are related to bettas, but they are much more peaceful than their cousins. They come in some very attractive colors including blues and reds. You should only keep one male in a tank less than 30 gallons and no more than two males in a larger tank though because they can be territorial with each other. They will do just fine on their own and you can add a pretty male to a community of other fish. You can also keep several females with the males. Females are less colorful and sometimes harder to find.  

Dwarf Gourami(93811)

3. White Cloud Minnows

White cloud minnows aren't the prettiest or flashiest fish out there. However, they are attractive, they school together very nicely, and they are very hardy. They are also inexpensive and peaceful. There is also a long finned variety that looks even nicer. You should have at least 3 of these together and 5 would be more comfortable.  

4. Danios

There are a wide variety of danios out there and many of them are very pretty. This is another schooling fish so you need at least 3 and 5 is better. Many of these are fast swimmers and can be a little jumpy, but they are interesting to watch, come in cool colors, and are very hardy. The most common one is probably the zebra danios which are sometimes called zebrafish.  GloFish are also a type of danio. 

Zebra Danios

5. Rasboras

The rasboras are related to the danios and the minnows. They too need to be in groups and come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. The most common variety is the harlequin rasbora. This small fish is very interesting with a black diamond shape on a light colored body and red fins. They too are hardy and can handle a wide range of water conditions.  

Harlequin Rasbora(93815)
Credit: Lerdsuwa, Wikipedia, CC BY

6. Cherry Barbs

Barbs are very misunderstood little fish. Many people think that they are aggressive and the name “barb” doesn't help. It is true that tiger barbs (and green barbs which are tiger barbs) are aggressive. They will pick at other fish and unless you want a tank full of just then then they can be a horrible choice. However, cherry barbs are pretty with their stripes and candy red color. They are another fish that come in a long finned variety.  

Cherry Barb
Credit: Engineer111, Wikipedia, CC BY

7. Cory Cats

Corydora catfish are another little fish that goes by several names. Some people just call them “green catfish”, “bronze catfish”, or “albino catfish”. Others call them corydoras and some call them cory cats. Whatever you want to call them they are a cute and fun fish to watch. These guys are usually sold at around an 1” in size and they are bottom feeders. It should be noted that they like to be in groups of at least 3, though many say that they should never be kept in a group smaller than 5 or 7. When in a larger group they will swim together, chase each other up and down the glass, and can be a lot of fun to watch. They come in a lot of different colors and patterns, but it should be noted that most common species get up to about 3 inches each and aren't the tiny little fish you buy in the store. They are hardy and fun to watch though so if you have the space, definitely put these on your list.  

8. Livebearers

There are a ton of different kinds of livebearers in the world and even in the aquarium industry. These fish have babies that develop inside the mother and then they give birth. The babies are small, but alive and will start eating and growing shortly after being born. The common kinds sold at pet stores and fish stores include guppies, platies, and mollies. Any of these can be good for a beginner, but it is a good idea to get just males. When you have males and females it can be overwhelming quickly and easily. You will also want to make sure that you are getting a small group of at least 3 so that they have some buddies. Finally you can also get Endler's livebearers or swordtails as beginners, but they are harder to find. You will want to make sure that if you get males and females, that you are aware that some livebearers can breed with other livebearers including Endlers and guppies and platies and swordtails.


Credit: The Freshwater Reef

9. Loaches

The loach category is huge. Some of them are much more difficult. Some are sensitive to water chemistry and some eat or attack other fish. However, the dojo loach (or weather loach) is a great option and the Khuli loach (or black khuli loach) is a close second. Both of these are fairly hardy and they are fun to watch. The dojo loach will nose around the ground and even look like a puppy dog. The khuli loach looks like a tiny snake that swims through the water. Both of these prefer to be in groups of two or more and they both like to have a place to hide. It should be noted that the dojo loach can get pretty large and isn't suited to small tanks (even if you find really tiny ones at the store).  

10. Tetras

Tetras are last on the list because I feel hesitant to add them. You can find tetras in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. They are a very common fish in the aquarium industry and available almost everywhere you can get fish. I hesitate to put them on the list because they do better in softer waters. If you have really hard water you should avoid them. If you have soft to medium hard water you can consider many options. The black tetra is the hardiest and a great option. The only ones that are very difficult and should not be kept as beginner fish even though they are sold that way left and right are the neon tetras and the cardinal tetras. Both of these species are very pretty with red and blue stripes on their silver colored bodies and both of them are very inexpensive. However, both of them are also very sensitive and difficult to keep alive. Some fish keepers say you should expect at least a 60% death rate with these too species. Tetras need to be kept in a group of 5 or more to be happy so you will want to make sure you have enough space for the size of fish you are buying.


Black Tetra
Credit: Juan R. Lascorz, Wikipedia, CC BY

There are lots of fish out there. But if you are new to keeping fish it is a good idea to start small and work your way up. After you have kept a handful of fish alive for awhile then you can feel free to add more fish and to try harder to keep fish. In the mean time, you should stick with the hardy they are so much more forgiving to mistakes!