17 Most Colorful Freshwater Aquarium Fish

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As a novice fish lover, you have a lot on your hands if you decide to set up your first freshwater tank.

You need to choose the right aquarium, and fitting equipment, figure out the best layout, and, most importantly, decide on the right fish.

As you may know, several criteria should come into play when choosing your tank fish. These include hardiness, adaptability, ease of care, and, last but not least, looks.

Today, we will look into the 17 most gorgeous freshwater fish that are perfect for all experience levels.

Let’s get it started!

1. Fancy Guppies

Guppies are by far the most popular and beloved aquarium fish. They are the most proficient breeders, capable of producing hundreds of offspring, sometimes even without male assistance.

That’s because females can store the male’s sperm in a special belly pouch that they can use to self-inseminate sometimes 12 months in a row.

This is why guppies have been subjected to extensive selective breeding, resulting in countless breeds with astounding color, pattern, and body shape variety.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Guppies can reach 2 inches in size and live approximately 2-3 years in captivity
  • They are shoaling fish that require at least 2 gallons of water per fish
  • The ideal temperature range sits between 72 and 82 F with a pH of 6.5 to 8.0
  • Guppies are omnivorous and accept all types of fish food

These peaceful and social fish are very easy to care for and maintain. Tank maintenance is necessary to keep them in good shape and prevent health problems due to ammonia buildup or poor oxygenation.

Limit the number of males to prevent extreme aggression during breeding and in general, and only pair guppies with peaceful and friendly tankmates.

2. Discus Fish

Discus fish are cichlids, so this already speaks plenty about the animal’s profile. In typical cichlid fashion, discus are social animals that prefer a varied environment with open spaces and hiding locations.

They generally dwell near the substrate but will roam throughout the tank during their active hours.

They showcase an impressive variety of colors and patterns, making discus communities look very diverse and eclectic.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Discus fish can reach 9 inches in captivity and require approximately 10 gallons per fish
  • You need to keep them in groups, so prepare a 55-gallon+ tank for 4-5 specimens
  • Aim for temperatures around 82-88 F and a pH level of 6.0-7.0
  • Discus fish are mouthbrooders, carrying their eggs and fry in the mouth for protection

These fish are more difficult to accommodate and pair with other fish species. The primary reason is their temperature requirement, given that discus fish prefer warmer water than most other species.

They are also more sensitive to poor water conditions and need impeccable tank hygiene and maintenance.

Discus fish are also rather territorial, especially against slow swimmers and smaller fish. Choose their tankmates carefully.

3. Red Blue Columbian Tetras

Columbian tetras are beautiful schooling fish that are bound to animate the tank with their presence.

These are very active swimmers, relying on their speed and strength in numbers to avoid predation and keep themselves safe and comfy. Always keep them in groups of at least 6 specimens for this reason.

To minimize stress, tetras require a diverse aquascape with plants, open swimming spaces, and occasional hiding areas. They are generally hardy and adaptable and love life in captivity.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Columbian tetras can reach 2.5 inches with good food and proper care
  • The ideal temperature revolves around 70-81 F with a pH of 6.0-7.5
  • Tetras breed with ease, so consider investing in a breeding tank if you plan to keep the fry
  • Don’t pair tetras with large-finned fish like guppies or bettas because these are notorious fin nippers

Columbian tetras are a beautiful and adaptable species that thrive in captivity.

They will eat anything, both live, frozen, and commercial food, and make for great community fish, provided you keep them in groups.

4. Congo Tetras

This is another tetra species that shares a lot of similarities with the former one.

The only notable difference is in appearance, as Congo tetras have shorter and grey or transparent fins, while Columbian tetras have them larger and red.

This species is also schooling in nature, so you should provide them with sufficient room fit to accommodate a sizeable group.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • The ideal temperature range is 73-82 F at a pH of 6.0-7.5
  • Congo tetras can grow up to 3.5 inches in captivity and require at least 30 gallons for a schooling group
  • Always keep Congo tetras in groups of at least 6 fish, as this keeps them calmer and more comfortable over the years
  • Only pair Congo tetras with peaceful and small fish to avoid bullying and aggression

Congo tetras are easy to keep and should adapt to life in captivity fairly fast. They don’t need intensive care, as regular water changes and a robust maintenance routine are enough to keep them satisfied.

A diverse and nutritious diet is also necessary to optimize the fish’s growth rate and boost their colors.

5. Ram Cichlids

Ram cichlids stand as some of the most peaceful cichlids you can get. They will exhibit some territorial behavior at times, but only mildly, as they don’t like confrontations.

These are very colorful animals with wide dorsal fins, red-spotted eyes, and an interesting color mix.

Ram cichlids are usually yellow with purple splashes and white spots on the anal and tail fins.

Some black marks can also be visible on the head and dorsal fin. These fish are not meant to be paired with other cichlid breeds due to their peaceful and docile temperament.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • The best temperature range is 74-82 F with a pH of 5.0-7.0
  • These cichlids require plenty of rocky hiding spots and a sand substrate to feel comfy and safe
  • Expect your ram cichlids to grow up to 2-3 inches and require at least 30 gallons per group
  • Don’t keep more than one male per tank to prevent territorial aggression and domination fights

Ram cichlids are clearly not meant for beginners due to the fish’s pretentiousness when it comes to water quality.

Ram cichlids are sensitive to ammonia and poor water conditions, so good filtration and a strict maintenance routine are necessary to keep the fish healthy.

6. Apistogramma

Apistogramma is another type of peaceful cichlid that prefers to inhabit slow-moving waters in South America, primarily the Amazon basin.

These fish have wide and long dorsal fins and showcase an awesome color and pattern variation. Most specimens will, however, display a distinct black band on their sides, stretching from head to tail.

These are rather peaceful cichlids but can display aggression and territorial behavior at times, especially when breeding.

Apistogramma consists of several different breeds with similar requirements but different appearances.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • The best temperature range is 68-85 F with a neutral pH between 6.0 and 7.0
  • Apistogramma cichlids remain smaller than your typical cichlid, only growing up to 3.5 inches; females won’t go past 2.5 inches
  • These cichlids demand at least 15-20 gallons for a group
  • As with any cichlid, provide Apistogramma with a sandy substrate, live plants, and rocky hiding areas for an optimal habitat layout

Apistogramma cichlids rank as intermediate in terms of care requirements.

These aren’t exactly fit for beginners due to their sensitivity to poor water conditions, so make sure you have some cichlid experience beforehand.

7. Kribensis Cichlids

Kribensis cichlids are very popular for their peaceful demeanor and colorful appearance.

Most specimens are brown or grey with red bellies and purple pectoral and anal fins.

These fish also display an awesome color and pattern variety, as some specimens come with green, blue, yellow, and red tints, as well as an albino variation.

These are native cave dwellers with a rather well-developed territorial behavior. So, don’t house Kribensis cichlids with other cave-dwellers.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • The best temperature for Kribensis cichlids sits between 75 and 78 F, but some fluctuation is permitted
  • Since these cichlids can grow up to 4 inches, they need at least 20-30 gallons for a 4-6-cichlid group
  • Kribensis cichlids are known fin nippers, so don’t pair them with long-finned fish like bettas

These are easy-to-maintain cichlids with not a lot of special demands. The most important aspect for them is the cave system, given that each specimen requires at least one cave as their favorite safe space.

Make sure you have sufficient room to accommodate your Kribensis cichlids properly.

8. Peacock Cichlids

Peacock cichlids are varied and gorgeous fish with diverse patterns and a mean look.

They have robust bodies and spiky dorsal fins and consist of multiple breeds due to extensive selective breeding.

Most breeds come in multiple colors, involving blue, yellow, red, pink, and spots or randomized splashes for an even more vibrant effect.

These cichlids are great for community tanks, so long as you provide them with a proper setup and specific living conditions.

That’s because they can exhibit aggression, more so than other breeds, in suboptimal living conditions.

Overcrowding and an improper male-to-female ratio are generally at fault.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Aim for a temperate of 76-82 F with a pH of 7.8-8.6 and low-to-no parameter fluctuations
  • These cichlids can grow up to 6 inches and can live 8 years in captivity
  • Peacocks rank as semi-aggressive, so pair them with tankmates that won’t mind that
  • These are fast swimmers that eat fast and eat a lot; their tankmates should share the same characteristics

You need a sandy substrate and some decent cave system to accommodate these cichlids properly.

They aren’t particularly difficult to care for but require clean waters and stable parameters to thrive.

Make sure that their environment is horizontal, rather than vertical, as these cichlids like to swim near the substrate.

9. Killifish

Killifish are an interesting entry due to their astounding variety. Several breeds of killifish exist, and they vary wildly in terms of size, color, behavior, and even overall requirements.

These are very slender and long fish with their dorsal fin located near the tail. This gives them an aquadynamic look.

The coloring and pattern type and distribution depend on the breed. Some killifish have one background color, generally yellow, orange, brown, or white, with spots and horizontal side bands. Others come with a zebra-like pattern like the clown killifish.

No matter the breed, these fish are great community additions, provided you manage their requirements properly.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Killifish can grow between 1 and 6 inches, depending on the breed
  • You need at least 20 gallons to house a pair, and you must limit the number of males to prevent aggression
  • The fish’s lifespan varies between 3 months and 5 years, depending on the breed
  • The ideal temperature should sit between 68 and 75 F

Overall, this species doesn’t have a clear profile. The killifish species consists of at least 1,250 breeds, each with their own requirements.

Some are peaceful, while others are aggressive and dominant, unfit for community tanks.

Different breeds also come with different environmental needs, making some easier to maintain than others. Choose your favorite killifish breed carefully.

By the way, cover the tank. These are some of the jumpiest fish you can get.

10. Betta Fish

Bettas, or Siamese fighting fish, are gorgeous specimens showcasing some of the most impressive physical characteristics in the aquarium trade.

This species is notorious for its color, pattern pool, and outstanding variety in fin shape and size.

To name some of the most exotic-looking bettas, consider the crowntail betta, the Halfmoon betta, the double tail betta, and the elephant ear betta.

The most widespread colors are blue, black, gold, red, white, green, and any combination that you can think of.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Bettas typically grow up to 3 inches, with males being slightly larger and more colorful than females
  • You need at least 2 gallons for one betta, preferably more if you have a community setup ready
  • Bettas need a free path to the water surface due to their labyrinth breathing
  • These are bubble nesters, so they require easy access to the surface to produce their breeding bubble

Bettas are some of the hardiest fish you can get. They are perfect for beginners thanks to their adaptability and ability to breathe and survive quite comfortably, even in suboptimal waters.

That being said, you should always provide your bettas with optimal living conditions to prolong their lifespan and prevent health problems.

Betta males are more dominant and territorial, so they don’t have more than 1 per tank.

11. Paradise Fish

The Asian paradise fish is an awesome community species that’s sure to bring a lot of color and personality to the tank.

The fish are very vibrant, with blue or purple bodies and yellow vertical stripes everywhere. They also have orange tails with long lobes for a subtle, elegant touch.

These fish will do just fine in a community setting, provided they are the dominant species.

You shouldn’t pair your paradise fish with aggressive or dominant species since this will cause them to stress out and eventually die because of it.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • These fish can reach 4 inches in size and live up to 8 years in captivity
  • Paradise fish requires approximately 20 gallons for a juvenile fish; consider slightly more for an adult
  • Keep the temperature between 61 and 79 F and a pH level of 5.8-8.0
  • These are some of the most adaptable and resilient fish you can find, but they’re not exactly the most peaceful

Paradise fish are easy to keep, so long as you manage their habitat properly. Live plants are a must, and so is the open swimming space for your fish to remain active and healthy.

Only have a male per tank because males are known to often fight to the death when adults.

12. Platies

Platies match guppies in terms of popularity, hardiness, breeding potential, and variation.

These peaceful shoaling fish showcase an amazing display of color and pattern variety thanks to them being perfect selective breeding material.

You can recognize the fish by its bulky body with short, round fins and sharp heads. Most specimens come with multicolored bodies with an exorbitant amount of patterns available.

To name a few:

  • Wagtail pattern – Red body with black fins.
  • Salt-and-pepper pattern – Cappuccino background with a black-red tail and black sprinkles around the midsection.
  • Comet pattern – A yellow background with a splashed ink-black midsection.
  • Albino pattern – Pure white with transparent fins.

The list goes on and on and expands every day.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Platies can grow up to 3 inches and live no more than 3 years in captivity
  • The ideal temperature range is 70-77 with a pH of 6.8-8.0
  • Platies are livebearers and excellent breeders, so consider investing in a breeding tank
  • The minimum recommended tank size is 10 gallons for a group of 5-6 platies, with 2 extra gallons necessary for any additional fish

These are not schooling fish, but they prefer group living due to the increased security and comfort. Consider getting a group of at least 6, preferably with no more than 1-2 males.

I recommend having at least 3 females per male to prevent mating-related aggression.

13. Celestial Pearl Danio

Celestial pearl danios are great nano fish with an amazing presence. These tiny swimmers have elongated bodies with a primary background color and a spotted pattern.

Most fish are either dark blue with yellow spots, but some slight variation can be noted in terms of coloring. The pattern stays the same with all specimens.

This is a peaceful and docile animal that can accommodate to a secure and peaceful community setup.

Although, the fish can be at risk of losing its life due to its extremely small size.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Celestial danios only grow up to 1-inch max, making them perfect for nano tanks
  • The ideal parameters include a water temperature of 71-78 F, a pH of 6.5-7.5, and a water hardness of 5 dGH max
  • You can easily house a group of 5-6 danios in a 10-gallon setup, although I recommend 10 danios as the minimum group size
  • A rocky setup with plenty of live plants is necessary for the fish’s comfort and mental peace

Celestial danios are moderately difficult due to their preference for clean environments and low tolerance to ammonia and poorly oxygenated habitats.

Handpick their tankmates carefully to prevent drastic size differences that could turn your danios into prey.

14. Clown Loaches

Few fish are as popular and recognizable as the clown loach. The typical loach is yellow or orange with vertical black bands covering the body. Most have bright red pectoral fins and red tails for a plus of personality and presence.

These are peaceful, active, and schooling fish with a predilection for caves and enclosed spaces.

They will also swim in the open, typically after dark, but prefer to lay low when environmental lights are brighter.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • A well-fed loach can reach 12 inches in captivity and live up to 25 years
  • I recommend 100 gallons for one specimen due to the fish’s high activity level and need for space
  • Aim for a temperature range of 75-85 F and a pH of 6.0-7.5
  • The preferred diet is carnivorous with plenty of variation and at least 2 daily meals

Unfortunately, clown loaches aren’t exactly fit for beginners. These fish need a lot of space, do best in groups which requires an enormous tank, and require pristine water conditions.

They also don’t breed in captivity, which means you don’t want to risk your loach’s life by investing in one without possessing sufficient experience for handling the species.

15. Denison Barb

Denison barbs are undeniably handsome with their torpedo bodies and sharp heads. The typical Denison barb has a white belly and a black horizontal band cutting through the midsection.

The top half of the body is usually green. All specimens also have a red line on top of the black band, stretching from the mouth, across the eyes, and ending in the middle of the midsection.

These fish are fast swimmers and prefer fast-moving waters and a clean habitat. They are generally peaceful and will only showcase aggression when stressed or overcrowded.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Expect your Denison barbs to grow up to 6 inches in captivity
  • These fish require plenty of space, preferably 55 gallons+ for 5-6 specimens
  • The fish grow very fast, so they can quickly outgrow their environment
  • The ideal temperature sits between 60 and 77 F, which qualifies Denison barbs as coldwater fish

Keep the water oxygen high and ensure a thorough tank hygiene schedule. These fish are sensitive to poor water conditions.

Also, make sure that their tankmates are similar in size, otherwise, your barbs can turn territorial.

16. Electric Blue Acaras

Electric blue acaras are manmade hybrids related to the common blue acara, which are typically peaceful and hardy cichlids.

The standard electric blue acara has very little color variation, as all specimens come in a dominant electric blue. The fish looks gorgeous in natural lighting, displaying a metallic tint.

These are known peaceful substrate burrowers that spend their time in the bottom-to-middle area of the tank.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • Blue acaras can reach 8 inches and live more than 20 years in optimal condition
  • Make sure every electric blue acara has 30 gallons of space and add additional 15 gallons for each new acara
  • The ideal temperatures are 68-82 F with a pH of 6.0-7.5
  • Electric blue acaras are omnivorous but prefer more protein in their diets than typical omnivorous fish

These hybrids are easy to care for and demand clean and stable environments. Go for a sand substrate and clean their habitat regularly to prevent health issues like Ich or fin rot.

17. Geophagus Cichlids

Geophagus cichlids are peaceful, large, and with an interesting look. Several breeds are available, all packing slightly different colors and patterns but following the same overarching layout.

Geophagus cichlids come in variations of blue, orange, and green with different gradients, spots, and lines, depending on the breed.

They rank as peaceful fish, allowing you to pair them with a variety of species. Make sure there’s enough space available, as these fish like exploring their habitat.

Stats and Difficulty of Care

  • The basic water parameters include a temperature range of 76-88 F and a pH level of 6.0-8.0
  • Geophagus cichlids can grow up to 12 inches and demand at least 55 gallons per specimen to remain comfy and peaceful
  • These fish like to bury themselves in the substrate, so go for sand

The Geophagus cichlid doesn’t have any unique preferences in terms of parameters.

Clean their habitat regularly, siphon the substrate to eliminate residues, and perform weekly partial water changes for improved oxygenation.

Conclusion

As you can see, today’s list is packed with a variety of viable options to consider. Most species here are hardy, peaceful, and easy to maintain, making them ideal for a novice aquarist.

If none of these are to your liking, which is doubtful, to say the least, do your own research and see what you can find.

And share the knowledge to enrich other people as well.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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