The Best Tropical Fish For Beginners


New entrants to the world of home aquariums tend to focus heavily on the technical side of running an aquarium. The actual fish are pretty important, wouldn’t you say?

Since most beginners should start with a freshwater tropical tank, I thought it would be a good idea to point out some popular and beginner-friendly fish you should consider to put into your tank.

When look for fish that are easy to keep for beginners there are a few factors that I think are important. First of all, we want fish that can tolerate occasional lapses in water quality. While you are learning the ins and outs of water quality maintenance you are going to make some mistakes. Some fish have a much higher tolerance for negative fluctuations in water quality, giving you more time to fix problems and fewer dead fish. It’s not a license to be negligent – it’s just an example of knowing your own limitations.

These should also be fish that don’t need constant attention from you. Some rare and beautiful fish also need you to check in on them all the time, not a great attribute in a beginner tank.

We also don’t want fish that will hurt or bully each other. Peaceful tank mates make for a pleasant beginning experience.

Finally, these fish need to be small enough to fit in your tank. Most beginners are going to have a 20-gallon tank, which means we want to have fish that will not outgrow your tank, and still be able to fit enough of them in to have something interesting to look at.

So here are my suggestions for fish species that should feature in a beginner tropical tank.



Some people are quick to dismiss guppies, but the truth is these colorful tropical fish are worthy of every aquarist’s attention. They are very hardy and are often used to cycle a new tank, as they easily endure the chemical fluctuations with ease. Guppies can go a week without food (although they shouldn’t) and generally take care of themselves.

They also breed like crazy, so if you don’t want a population explosion in your tank, be sure to keep only one sex or the other.

Some specially-bred guppies can be quite expensive and have wonderful fins and colors. Don’t keep guppies with bettas, since bettas sometime mistake them for members of their own species thanks to the billowy fins some guppies have.

Neon Tetras


Neon Tetras are personally some of my favorite fish; tetras are so popular that one of the biggest aquarium gear makers has named itself after them. These little guys love to school and you should keep them in fair numbers. They make use of the whole tank, so if you can’t keep many fish, tetras are a great way to liven up a tank.

Besides the neon tetra there are many, many other fish in this family that are worth looking at. Many of them are suitable for beginners and many tetras will get along well with each other. I like keeping neons and x-rays together myself.



Danios are another mainstay of tropical tanks everywhere and come in many awesome varieties. Personally, I like pink danios with some individuals sporting long, wispy fins.

Like guppies, danios are very hardy and work well as tank starters if you were cycling the old-fashioned way. Even today when you can do a chemical start, they remain a great choice.

There are many danios to choose from, but apart from the pink ones I personally like leopard and zebra danios. Their patterns and coloring are really pretty and work well with LED lights. They are also more substantial in terms of body girth than guppies, who are proportionally more finny.



Platies are not a fish I personally care for too much, but they are popular in freshwater tanks because they get along with just about anyone. If the fish in your tank leave the platy alone it will leave them alone. They are not picky eaters and will serve well to add variety to any community tank.

Depending on the specific species, they can have striking colors and patterns, so if you want a vibrant tank there are choices to be had here.

Khuli Loaches


I LOVE Khuli loaches. Wanting nothing more than a marine tank to begin with, I was a bit disappointed that it would be too hard and expensive as a beginner. I wanted animals in interesting shapes and freshwater fish all looked the same to me back then.

The Kuhli loach helped change my attitude. This little eel-like fish is brilliant and comes in a number of colorations. They are super peaceful, interesting to watch, and are good bottom-feeders. You can mix them up with other bottom feeders and they will come out of seemingly nowhere when food is just outside of their hiding spot. Once you see a loach swimming in your tank, you’ll never want a tank without them.



The corys are small bottom-feeders that look really cute, have interesting behaviors, and come across as smart little fish. Personally, I like the Panda corys and you need a minimum of six of them since they school together. A very enjoyable fish.



One of the biggest gripes I hear from new fishkeepers is how small so many of the beginner-friendly species are. Many people start out with the vision of huge fish in a tank, but a 20-gallon tank is not going to work for that.

There are, however, some bigger fish you can include in these setups; one of the best is the bristlenose ancistrus. Often mistaken for the similar-looking pleco and falling under the broad common name of “algae eater”, the ancistrus only grows to about half the size of a pleco and performs the same essential tank-cleaning function.

This bony fish appears huge in smaller tanks and is totally peaceful. It will also be very aware of you and comes across as smart and interactive. I love my ancistrus and it is definitely a centerpiece of the tank.

Spoiled for Choice

There are many, many fish that are good for beginners and these are just some of them, but the fish I have listed are good for smaller tanks, they will live together in peace, and they are affordable and easy to get at almost any store. A tank that has these species will be diverse, busy, and vibrant – a first tank you can be proud of.