Colorful Freshwater Fish – 21 To Check Out

When you think of colorful fish, your mind probably goes straight to coral reefs swarming with tropical fish like clownfish and tangs. The truth is, it’s not only tropical reef fish that can bring intense color to home aquariums, our freshwater friends can be just as bright and colorful!

In this guide, I’ll introduce you to 21 of the most colorful freshwater fish for your tank. I’ll also give you a crash course on how to care for them, so if you’re new to the wonderful world of fishkeeping, you can get started in the right way.

So let’s dive right in!

Most Colorful Freshwater Fish (21 Great Species)

The colorful fish in this list range from small freshwater fish, that you can keep on your desk, to huge fish that need supersized tanks, so there’s something for everyone’s budget and skill level.

For each fish on the list, I’ll be providing you with some very important information like their:

  • Scientific Name
  • Difficulty Level
  • Temperament
  • Fish Size
  • Minimum Tank Size
  • Diet
  • Origin
  • Type

Remember, these stats are really important when it comes to setting up a tank for your fish and deciding which other fish you can keep them with. Check our video above from our YouTube channel. If you like our content, but sure to subscribe. We make new videos every week! Our blog post goes into more detail below!

Let’s meet some colorful fish for your aquarium!

1. Discus

Discus In An Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Symphysodon aequifasciata
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Advanced
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 8 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 70+ gallons
  • Diet: Mostly carnivorous, provide flakes/pellets, frozen/live foods
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World Cichlid

Discus fish are one of the most beautiful species available for the freshwater aquarium. These South American cichlids come in a huge variety of different color strains featuring every color of the rainbow. They also come with all kinds of different markings from plain colors, to stripes and even leopard spots.

Discus fish like it warm, so you’ll need a heated tank of 82-86°F to keep them comfortable. They are medium to large aquarium fish with an almost circular, flattened body that reaches about 8 inches long and tall.

2. Betta

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  • Scientific Name: Betta splendens
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 2.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 5+ gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide flakes/ pellets, frozen/live foods
  • Origin: Asia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
  • Type: Nano

Betta fish have some of the most dramatic colors of any freshwater fish, and their awesome flowing fins and big personalities add to their appeal. Bettas come in just about any color you can think of, and the fact that they can live in relatively small tanks makes them an awesome choice if you don’t have much space.

When it comes to Bettas, the males are the more pretty fish. These guys have a reputation for fighting though, which is where they get their other common name, the Siamese Fighting Fish!

To keep things peaceful, make sure you only keep one male in a small tank. The females are less aggressive though and can be kept in small groups.

3. Arowana

  • Scientific Name: Scleropages formosus
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Fish Size: up to 36 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 250 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide pellets & fresh fish, crustaceans, etc.
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Type: Monster fish

If you’re looking for a really impressive and colorful aquarium fish, the Arowana will definitely get your attention. Unfortunately, however, the Asian Arowana are endangered and not allowed to be sold in the United States. The silver version can be kept in the US, but states are increasingly banning this fish to prevent invasive introducing to domestic habitants1.

These fish are for serious fish keepers only because of the space and finances needed to properly care for them.

There are a few different Arowana species available in the hobby, but the most colorful is Scleropages formosus. The strains known as ‘Cross Back Golden’ and ‘Chilli Red’ are particularly gorgeous fish, but there are many others to choose from.

4. Angelfish

Freshwater Angelfish
  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 6 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets/ flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World Cichlid

Angelfish are one of the most popular cichlid types in the aquarium hobby. These stunning fish have rounded bodies with long, graceful fins. They come in some amazing color forms from silver, to striped to fish that have black, white, gold, and orange markings, just like koi!

Although they are relatively peaceful, Angelfish are predators so you should avoid keeping them with smaller tank mates that they might see as lunch.

5. Flowerhorn Cichlid

Flowerhorn Cichlid At Local Fish Store
  • Scientific Name: Uncertain, hybrid
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive to Aggressive
  • Fish Size: up to 16 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets/ flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Hybrid of several South American species
  • Type: New World Cichlid

Flowerhorn Cichlids are really unique and unusual-looking fish. They were bred from a variety of different species to create the popular hybrid known today. They come in many different strains, all with plenty of bright colors like shades of red and blue.

These fish are known to be aggressive, so choosing tank mates can be a little tricky. It’s usually best to keep them on their own, or if you have a very large tank, with other large fish that can hold their own.

6. Killifish

Killifish in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Many species e.g. Epiplatys annulatus
  • Difficulty Level: Easy-Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful-aggressive
  • Fish Size: 1-5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide live/frozen foods, pellets/ flakes
  • Origin: Almost worldwide
  • Type: Nano

Killifish are some of the most colorful aquarium fish in the world. There are many different types, ranging from the tiny Least Killifish up to the 4-inch long Golden Wonder Killifish. These hardy fish are distant relatives of other popular aquarium fish like guppies and mollies.

Killifish are tough creatures, and many species live in rain puddles in the wild. In this harsh and temporary environment, some of those species live for less than a year! Fortunately, these beautiful fish live longer than that in freshwater aquariums.

7. Exotic Plecos

Exotic Pleco
  • Scientific Name: Hypancistrus, Baryancistrus, Scobinancistrus spp.
  • Difficulty Level: Easy-moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-aggressive
  • Fish Size: up to 24 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Varied, depending on species
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: Bottom feeding fish

When it comes to bottom-feeding aquarium fish, the plecos are some of the most stunning options available. These catfish vary in size and care requirements depending on their species.

There is a huge number of different plecos in the hobby, so it’s important to make sure you look up the needs of your favorite pleco species before bringing one home. Some of the most sought after pleco species include:

8. Freshwater Stingrays

Freshwater Stingray
  • Scientific Name: Potamotrygon spp.
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate-advanced
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Fish Size: 15 inches- 3ft
  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons-1000 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide fresh/frozen fish, crustaceans, and sinking pellets
  • Origin: South American
  • Type: Monster fish

Stingrays are one of the ultimate exotic fish that can be kept in freshwater aquariums. These relatives of the shark family need large tanks and have venomous spines on their tails, so they are definitely not for beginners. There are many different freshwater stingray species, and many of them have incredible markings and patterns that are perfect for helping them blend in on the bottom.

Stingrays need plenty of floor space and do well in large, shallow aquariums or ponds. There they can make very friendly pets that can be trained to eat from your hand if you’re brave enough!

9. German Blue Ram Cichlid

Blue Ram Cichlid in Planted Tank
  • Scientific Name: Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 2.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets/ flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World Cichlid

Blue Rams just burst with color. Together with iridescent blue, their bodies and fins are covered in various shades of green, red, orange, bright yellow, and black that make these small fish really attractive.

The German Blue Ram Cichlid is a lot more shy and peaceful than other cichlids, and these fish appreciate plenty of hiding places in the tank where they can hang out. This also means they are great tropical fish for the community tank where they can be kept with other colorful freshwater fish.

10. Frontosa Cichlid

Frontosa Cichlid in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Cyphotilapia frontosa
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 12 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons
  • Diet: Mostly carnivorous, provide pellets/ flakes, live/ frozen food
  • Origin: Lake Tanganyika
  • Type: African cichlid

This large African cichlid species has dramatic colors, markings, and body shapes that really stand out in the aquarium. They do need plenty of space though and are most at home in deep, dimly lit tanks. Frontosa Cichlids are shoaling fish that should be kept in a good-sized group, which is another reason you need a really large tank to keep these amazing animals. For those looking for a smaller African cichlids, the peacock cichlid species is a great alternative and very colorful.

11. Jewel Cichlid

Female Jewel Cichlid
  • Scientific Name: Hemichromis bimaculatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 4-6 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets/ flakes, live/ frozen food
  • Origin: West Africa
  • Type: African Cichlid

Jewel cichlids certainly deserve their title. These amazing fish glow with iridescent turquoise markings on a scarlet red body.

Like many other African Cichlids, these guys can be a little aggressive so they aren’t the best choice for a community tank. They are fascinating fish though, especially if you keep a pair in a species-only tank.

12. Paradise Fish

Paradise Fish in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Macropodus opercularis
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 3 inch
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide live/frozen foods, pellets/flakes
  • Origin: China, Vietnam, Laos
  • Type: Labyrinth fish, Cool water fish

These beautiful Asian fish have amazing rainbow colors, consisting mostly of red and blue stripes. Paradise Fish are a cool water species that can be kept without a heater in many homes.

These fish have plenty of attitude and are sometimes known as the Chinese Fighting Fish. To prevent your tank from becoming a war zone, make sure you keep just one male in your tank. If you want to give him some company, 2 or more females can be added.

13. Neon Tetra

Neon Tetra
  • Scientific Name: Paracheirodon innesi
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 1.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide granules or flakes, live/ frozen foods
  • Origin: Brazil, Peru, Colombia
  • Type: Schooling fish

If you’re looking for a colorful and easy community fish species, the always popular Neon Tetra is one of the best options by far. These amazing river basing fish look amazing in large schools. With their incredible red and blue colors, these glowing nano fish look especially amazing in planted aquariums. The great thing about Neon Tetras is that they are very affordable and almost always easy to find.

14. Cardinal Tetra

Cardinal Tetra
  • Scientific Name: Paracheirodon axelrodi
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 1.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous, provide granules or flakes, live/ frozen food
  • Origin: Brazil
  • Type: Schooling fish

If you like the Neon Tetra but want a tropical fish that is a little less common and even more colorful, you’ll probably want to check out their slightly larger cousins, the Cardinal Tetras. These are on of the more popular fish to add in freshwater aquascapes.

The most obvious difference between the Cardinal Tetra and the Neon Tetra is the amount of red coloration they have. Cardinals, like their name suggests, win hands down in that department and are the more colorful of the two.

15. Celestial Pearl Danio

  • Scientific Name: Celestichthys margaritatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 0.75 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide dried, frozen, and live foods
  • Origin: Asia, Myanmar, Thailand
  • Type: Nano

Celestial Pearl Danios, or CPDs as they are often known, are tiny fish with a very peaceful nature. These colorful fish have bright orange bellies and fins with black sides spotted in gold. Because of their small size, these danios should only be kept with other species of small, non-aggressive fish. Andother great option to try with Danios is the glowlight danio.

16. Cherry Barb

Male Cherry Barb
  • Scientific Name: Puntius titteya
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 1.5-2 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide, live, frozen, and dried foods
  • Origin: Sri Lanka
  • Type: Schooling fish

The Cherry Barb is a colorful schooling barb fish that gets along great with other peaceful fish in the freshwater tank. They are bright orange fish that love to hang out in groups, so make sure you keep at least 6 to 10 Cherry Barbs in the same tank.

17. Fancy Goldfish

What is a fancy goldfish
  • Scientific Name: Carassius auratus
  • Difficulty Level: Easy-moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: up to 10 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets, vegetables, and live/frozen foods
  • Origin: Wild form is native to Asia
  • Type: Cool water fish

Fancy goldfish come in all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes. They are mostly very colorful fish that can be black, orange, golden, white, or a mix of these colors.

Goldfish are cool water aquarium fish that usually don’t need a heater to stay comfortable. They do need great quality water though and a bigger tank than you might think, so consider getting a 40-gallon aquarium if you plan on keeping a small group of these brightly colored fish.

Here’s a short list of colorful fancy goldfish varieties that you can keep:

18. Dwarf Neon Rainbow

Rainbow Fish in Planted Tank
  • Scientific Name: Melanotaenia praecoxis
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 2.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide live/frozen foods,
  • Origin: New Guinea, Indonesia
  • Type: Schooling Fish

Dwarf Neon Rainbow Fish have awesome iridescent turquoise bodies that glow with a purple sheen when they move in the light. Their fins are scarlet red which contrasts amazingly with their bodies.

These fish are very peaceful, which makes them a great choice for community tanks. Because of their social nature, make sure to keep a group of at least 8 rainbowfish in the same tank.

19. Fancy Guppies

Fancy Guppies with Floating Plants
  • Scientific Name: Poecilia reticulata
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Fish Size: 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide live, frozen, and dried foods
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: Nano shoaling fish

Fancy guppies are hugely popular aquarium fish that have been kept by aquarists for generations. These fish are prized for their beautiful colors and long, flowing fins.

The fancy guppy is a prolific breeder, so if you keep male and female fish together, you can expect to find some fry in the tank sooner or later. There are many different types of fancy guppy, so the choice of colors is nearly limitless!

20. Dwarf Gourami

Dwarf Gourami in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Trichogaster lalius
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-aggressive
  • Fish Size: 3 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh
  • Type: Labyrinth fish

Dwarf Gouramis are very pretty fish, so it’s easy to see why they can be found in freshwater aquariums in bedrooms, living rooms, and offices all over the globe. The male Gourami are colored in amazing shades of blue, red while the females are more silvery. These territorial fish work best when kept in pairs because males tend to fight with each other.

21. Oscar Fish

Oscar Cichlids in Aquarium
  • Scientific Name: Astronotus ocellatus
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Fish Size: 12 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, provide pellets or flakes, live and frozen food
  • Origin: South America
  • Type: New World Cichlid

Oscar Cichlids are freshwater species with big personalities. These fish make awesome pets and there are some amazing color varieties available with shades from white to black and golden yellow to red.

These colorful freshwater fish are often kept in species-only tanks, although they can make good community fish if kept in a larger tank with other big cichlids like the Jack Dempsey Fish.

Bonus Fish

We limited our list to 21, but there are plenty of other fish that are colorful. Check out these others:

  • Paradise Fish – A great betta fish alternative
  • Green Terror – Colorful but aggressive
  • Blue Acara – Bright and calmer than most cichlids
  • Red Terror Cichlid – Colorful but aggressive
  • Zebra Danios – more fancy then colorful – especially long fin varieties
  • Tiger barbs – Colorful, but can nip fins

How To Care For Your Fish

Each type of freshwater aquarium fish has its own preferred water conditions that it needs to thrive in. Unfortunately, that means there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all fish.

Before you’ll be able to set up an aquarium and properly care for the fish you choose, it’s always a good idea to carefully research its needs. To get you started, let’s take a look at the general care requirements for freshwater fish.

Tank Setup

To keep your colorful freshwater fish happy and healthy, your going to need a tank and some essential hardware. Let’s take a look at how to set up a fish tank:

Tank Size

Choosing the right tank size for your fish is very important. Oscar fish, for example, look so cute in the fish store when they’re just a few inches long, and many people make the mistake of not realizing they are going to grow up and need a new tank.

You can upgrade your tank size as your fish grows, but if possible, why not start out with the right size for their eventual adult size? It could save you some headaches down the road. You can think of the minimum tank sizes as a starting point, remember, bigger is always better!


A water filter for your aquarium is a must-have item. These machines do more than just filter out physical particles in the water. In fact, your filter’s most important role is a process known as biological filtration.

Aquarium filters come in many shapes and sizes, and again the bigger the better, just be careful not to set up something too powerful that will turn your tank into a washing machine! As a general rule, you want to select a model that will filter the volume of water in your tank about 5 times every hour.


While all fish species have their own preferred water temperature ranges, not all of them will need a heater, it depends a lot on the temperature of the room where you keep their tank. You should run a heater for all tropical species because they also keep the water temperature range nice and stable.

Water heaters come in different sizes, so make sure you select a model that matches your tank size. While you’re at it, go ahead and pick up an aquarium thermometer. They don’t cost much and they make it very easy to monitor the performance of your heater and the temperature of the water.


You’re going to need some aquarium lighting to simulate a natural day length and allow you to enjoy the amazing colors on your new fish. As a rule, choose the minimum light strength for your tank size when starting out, especially if you’re not growing plants.

Strong light will probably cause some annoying algae issues. For the same reason, never set up your aquarium in direct sunlight!


The substrate is the sand or gravel that you keep at the bottom of your fish tank. Your choice of substrate depends on the kind of fish you keep, the look you want for your aquarium, and whether you plan on growing any live plants in your tank.

Some aquarists even keep their fish in tanks without any substrate at all. There are pros and cons to each variety, but if you’re just planning on keeping some cool fish, smooth aquarium gravel is a good place to start.

Water Quality

Fish produce waste (all that food has to go somewhere right?), and this affects the purity of the water in your tank, making it become toxic to your fish and causing cloudy water and algae problems. Your filter handles half the job of maintaining good water quality, but the other half will be up to you.

Let’s take a look at how to manage this problem to keep your pets happy and healthy. It’s time to get your hands wet!


The chemicals that cause your fish tank water quality to lose quality and become toxic are invisible, so you need a way to monitor their levels. This is where a simple aquarium test kit will come to the rescue! The three most important parameters to keep an eye on are:

  • Ammonia
  • Nitrites
  • Nitrates

These are chemicals that enter the water through fish waste and uneaten food. To understand exactly why monitoring them is so important, go ahead and read this article on aquarium cycling. It’s just a little technical, but it will really help you understand water quality better.

Apart from those three levels, I would recommend choosing a test kit that can measure:

  • pH
  • GH
  • KH

Water Changes

The best way to keep the levels of nitrate in your tank water to safe levels is to perform a regular partial water change every one or two weeks. This means taking out a certain percentage of the old tank water and replacing it with clean water.

As a general starting point, I would advise changing out 25% of your water once a week. Make sure you treat the new water with a water conditioner before adding it to the tank. This neutralizes chemicals like chloramine and heavy metals in the water and makes it safe for your pets.

Aquarium Maintenance

The best way to keep your tank clean is to use a gravel vacuum to remove the water from your tank when doing a water change. This way you can suck up waste particles that have settled at the bottom of the tank.

You can also pick up an algae scraper to keep your glass crystal clear. Once in a while, you’ll need to rinse out the sponge media in your filter if it gets clogged up. Make sure you use tank water to rinse it instead of tap water.


Of course, you only want the best for your colorful freshwater fish, so keeping them fit and healthy will be very important to you. Let’s take a look at the best ways to do this:


It’s very important to feed your fish a healthy, balanced diet. Providing some variety is better than sticking to just one food source. It’s a good idea to choose a staple dried food in flake or pellet form and then supplement every now and then with natural live or frozen foods like brine shrimp.

Natural foods tend to bring out the best colors in freshwater aquarium fish. Of course, different fish have different diets, so it’s very important to research the specific needs of your pets.

Take care not to overfeed your fish because this is a leading cause of water quality issues. If your fish can finish all the food in one go, it means you’ve given them a little too much.

Choosing the Right Tank Mates

One of the trickiest parts of setting up a community tank is choosing suitable community fish. Some fish are just downright aggressive and do best when kept with their own species, or even on their own altogether.

As a general rule, avoid keeping smaller fish with bigger ones, especially if the smaller fish can fit into their tank mates’ mouths! Start by researching each fish that you like and take note of their:

  • Temperament
  • Maximum size
  • Tank size
  • Water temperature & parameters

If all these things line up, and you have the space for more fish in your tank, you should have a good match!

Preventing Illness

The number one cause of illness in freshwater aquarium fish is stress. Stress weakens the immune system allowing parasites and infections to take hold. But what causes stress?

  • Incorrect water parameters
  • Incorrect temperatures
  • Incorrect tank size
  • Poor diet
  • Low water quality
  • Introducing sick fish to the tank
  • Bullying and aggression from tank mates

From this list, you can see the importance of researching your fish before bringing them home.

Where To Buy Them

The more common and popular fish can usually be found down at your local fish store. A great way to find specific fish is to buy them online. When buying online, make sure you buy from a reputable dealer like Flipaquatics who have an arrive live guarantee and a solid reputation in the community.


Which can live together?

There are many great combinations of colorful freshwater fish that you can keep together. When choosing community fish tankmates, make sure they are roughly the same size, prefer the same water parameters, and have a peaceful nature.

How do I boost their color?

Apart from making sure your fish are in great health, there are two effective ways to keep them looking their colorful best. The first way is to use good lighting. Your fish will often look pale and dull without good light.

The other way to enhance the color of your fish is to provide them with a healthy balanced diet. Feeding live/frozen food can really help make their colors shine.

Do fish like tanks with lots of color?

Many fish prefer tanks with a darker color scheme because it makes them feel more secure. Darker gravel also helps to make the colors of your fish pop and enhances their beauty.

Light-colored substrates can make darker-colored fish stand out better, while colorful substrates can drown out the colors of your fish.

What is the prettiest aquarium fish?

There are so many amazing freshwater aquarium fish that it’s tough to choose just one! My favorite has to be the Celestial Pearl Danio. Which freshwater fish do you think is prettiest? Let me know in the comments below!

Final Thoughts

Did you know there were are so many incredibly colorful fish available for freshwater tanks? I know it can be hard to choose the best fish for your freshwater aquarium, but go ahead and use this guide as a great starting point. Happy fishkeeping!

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