If you are new to caring for fish in an aquarium or if fish seem to die on you for no reason, you might be wondering if some aquarium fish are easier to care for than others.
The answer is that certain aquarium fish are easier to keep because they can tolerate a wider range of water conditions, allowing them to survive in a variety of environments.
Other factors, like your tap water and tank size, are unique to you but also contribute to whether the aquarium fish is “easy” or requires extra care.
The purpose of his article is to help you identify which freshwater fish are easy to care for and which should be avoided.
Before we get into the list of fish, let’s define what makes a tropical fish easy to keep.
First, an easy to care for fish is able to tolerate a relatively wide pH range.
This is important because whether your tap water is hard (basic) or soft (acidic) depends on where you live.
In California, water tends to be very “hard,” so fish that love softer water, like neon tetras and discus, will require extra care and maintenance to soften the water.
If you live in an area with softer water, like the Seattle area, keeping fish like neon tetras is much easier, but species that love alkaline, like certain cichlids, may require extra care and maintenance to create the proper water conditions.
Second, the easiest to care for fish are easy to feed and generally thrive on a mostly flake food diet or accept easy to find pellet foods.
Some fish, like puffer fish, need specialized diets that include snails and other frozen foods, which may not be easy for you to find or prepare.
However, that does not mean you should avoid keeping puffer fish, it just means that fish with specialized diets do not qualify as “easiest” to keep for purposes of this article.
Finally, for purposes of this article, my list of easy to care for fish will be limited to tropical fish that thrive in tanks raging between 5 gallons and 20 gallons.
So, fish like Oscars and large catfish (like the redtail) will not be included, even though these fish are relatively easy to care for if provided an appropriately large tank or pond.
Alright, let’s get into which fish fit the above criteria and qualify as the easiest fish to care for in an aquarium.
1. Guppies (Poecilia reticulate)
Temperature: 76-80 Fahrenheit (24-26.6 Celsius)
pH: 6.8 – 8.0
You knew this tropical fish would make the list.
Guppies are certainly some of the easiest fish to keep.
Guppies are extremely active fish, darting around the aquarium, especially at feeding time.
Male guppies are colorful and will display to female guppies when given the chance.
Guppies are livebearers and reproduce about every 30 days.
This means your tank will quickly become full of guppy babies if you have a pair.
Watching the baby guppies grow into adults is very rewarding but can quickly become concerning as the tank becomes overcrowded.
The solution is to keep a tank with only male guppies.
This allows you to enjoy their personalities and beauty without having to worry about your tank becoming a guppy farm.
Guppies come a vast range of colors and remain an extremely popular and fun fish to keep.
Guppies are also extremely tough fish, tolerating a wide range of water conditions.
If you are looking for a fish that is both colorful and hardy, you can’t go wrong with a guppy (but betta fish are in the running as well, see #5).
2. Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)
Temperature: 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit (22-28 Celsius)
Cherry shrimp are obviously not a fish, but they are easy to care for.
If you love small tanks, such as 5 gallon aquariums, or even a 2.5 gallon jar, cherry shrimp are the perfect pets.
Unlike aquarium fish, cherry shrimp have a small “bioload,” meaning they produce much less waste than fish and are therefore easy to keep in small tanks.
The reason that multiple fish, or big fish, are not ideal for small tanks is the waste these fish produce (fish poop and uneaten food) creates ammonia, and even a relatively small quantity of ammonia can severely stress out aquarium fish or kill them.
But, cherry shrimp can live in relatively small tanks without causing an ammonia spike and therefore are some of the best and easiest creatures to keep in an aquarium.
If you love small planted tanks, jars, and bowls, cherry shrimp are an excellent choice.
If you want to learn more about freshwater shrimp, check out my articles on caring for cherry shrimp and the top beginner aquarium shrimp.
3. Harlequin Rasboras And Lambchop Rasboras
Temperature: 72-82 Fahrenheit (22-28 Celsius)
Often overshadowed by neon tetras and other popular community fish, Harlequin and Lambchop rasboras are peaceful schooling fish that standout in planted tanks.
Harlequin rasboras and Lambchop rasboras are actually different species of aquarium fish, the main difference being coloration and the shape of the black mark running down the lower half of the fish.
On Lambchop rasboras, the black mark tends to look less like a triangle and more like the end of a bone, while true Harlequin rasboras display a thicker, and wider triangular black mark.
The differences are subtle and you may need to look at coloration in addition to the shape of the mark to determine which fish is which.
Lambchop rasboras tend to have a deeper copper/orange tone and Harlequins having a more red/pinkish tone.
Both these rasboras are hardy and tolerate a wide range of water conditions, unlike neon tetras, which tend to die when water conditions shift or remain alkaline (hard) for too long.
If you are looking for an easy to keep schooling fish that possess what can only be described as a fish “tattoo,” consider getting 5 of these fish for a 10 gallon setup or even a 5 gallon setup if you are prepared to increase the frequency of your water changes.
4. Tiger Barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona)
Temperature: 76-82 Fahrenheit (24-27.8 Celsius)
Tiger barbs are striking fish, with black bars accentuating their silvery-orange bodies.
Tiger barbs tend to be nervous fish but calm down significantly when in larger groups.
Tiger barbs tend to be nippy toward other fish and do best in a tank with other tiger barbs.
But if your tank is large enough, tiger barbs can be kept with a variety of other community fish.
Like many other barbs, tiger barbs are extremely hardy fish and thrive in most home aquariums without issue.
Tiger barbs prefer to be in groups, so plan on setting up a 10 or 20 gallon tank for a school of 5-6 fish.
Tiger barns look spectacular in planted tanks, providing eye-catching contrast for tanks filled with green plants.
If you want to learn about hardy and easy to care for aquarium plants, check out my article on almost unkillable plants.
5. Betta Fish (Betta splendens)
Temperature: 76-80 Fahrenheit (24-26.67 Celsius)
Betta fish are special aquarium fish.
Not only are they ridiculously colorful, but they also have inquisitive personalities, making the some of the most personable freshwater fish in the aquarium hobby.
Both male and female betta fish are some of the easiest fish to keep because they are able to breathe atmospheric air.
This allows betta fish to thrive in smaller tanks and a wider range of water conditions.
However, their adaptability has also led to misunderstandings about betta fish and poor care, which eventually leads to the betta’s death.
If you want to learn more about caring for betta fish, check out my guide to proper betta fish care.
Betta fish (also known as Siamese fighting fish) are aggressive toward their own kind and both males and females will kill each other if given the chance.
This doesn’t mean that betta fish must be kept alone though.
There are a number of tank mates that betta fish tolerate, including many common community fish.
Keep in mind that some fish, like barbs and cichlids, will nip at a betta’s fins and stress out a betta.
So, if you do plan to keep other fish with a betta fish, make sure your tank is on the larger size and that the other fish are smaller and quicker than your betta.
In general, betta fish are some of the most colorful and lively aquarium fish you can keep.
And Betta splendens, the betta in almost every pet store, is not the only type of betta fish that exists.
A number of “wild” type bettas, a completely different species than Betta splendens, are becoming more common in the aquarium hobby.
These bettas fish look and act different than the bettas we are used to seeing and provide new ways to appreciate betta fish in general.
6. Mollies and Platies
Temperature: 75-80 Fahrenheit (24-26.67 Celsius)
Mollies and Platies are classic aquarium fish that have existed in the aquarium hobby for many years.
The wonderful thing about these tropical fish is that they tolerate a wide range of water conditions and are available in a range of colors and shapes.
Balloon mollies are a charming example, these mollies are bred to look like little blimps.
Both mollies and platies are live bearers so if you want to get into breeding aquarium fish, both species are excellent choices.
Besides being available in a wide range of shapes and colors, these fish are hardy and have a lot of personality.
In planted tanks, mollies and platies will pick at algae and add extra visual appeal.
Either fish is an excellent choice for a 10 gallon tank or a 20 gallon if you plan to keep multiple species in one tank.
7. Rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae)
Temperature: 76-82 Fahrenheit (24-27.8 Celsius)
Rainbow fish come in a variety of sizes and colors and are wildly underrated for small and medium sized tanks.
Larger rainbowfish, like Boesemani rainbowfish, are the “classic” rainbowfish or what many people think of when talking about rainbowfish.
But, “rainbowfish” is actually a common name for multiple species.
And serious rainbowfish aquarists often refer to these fish by their scientific names.
For purposes of this article, you should know that bigger rainbowfish often belong to the Melanotaeniidae and Bedotiidae families, while smaller, and generally more docile, rainbowfish belong to the Pseudomugilidae (blue-eyes) family.
For small to medium sized tanks, (7-20 gallons), the Threadfin Rainbowfish (Iriatherina werneri) and the Forktail Rainbowfish (Pseudomugil furcatus) are ideal because they are small and easy to care for.
Threadfin rainbows grow up to 2 inches in length, and prefer temperatures between 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Forktail rainbows typically reach 1.6 inches in length and prefer temperatures between 76-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Both Threadfin and Forktail rainbowfish thrive best in a planted tank that receives regular water changes.
They can be kept with other community fish but make sure their tank mates do not nip at fins.
Rainbowfish will accept flake food but also appreciate freeze-dried bloodworms and Fluval bugbites.
8. Zebra Danio (Danio rerio)
Temperature: 65-80 Fahrenheit (18.33-26.67 Celsius)
Zebra Danios (also called Zebrafish) are a classic community fish that are too often sold as “starter fish.”
This typically means that Zebra Danios will be the first fish added to a new aquarium, and will help start the tank’s “cycle.”
Using fish to “cycle” an aquarium is not recommend though (at least by me) because a new tank lacks an established colony of nitrifying bacteria (and other beneficial bacteria as well) to deal with substances like ammonia and nitrates.
Without beneficial bacteria detoxifying the water, the fish in the aquarium will become stressed, sick, or may even die.
That being said, the reason that Zebra Danios are recommended by some pet stores as “starter fish” is that they are incredibly hardy and able to survive in relatively unforgiving water conditions.
Zebra Danios can be kept at low temperatures (65-70 degress Fahrenheit) but are much more active and likely to breed between 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Besides being tough, Zebra Danios are also visually appealing.
Shaped like a torpedo and displaying black and white stripes, Zebra Danios are attractive and add contrast to tanks with colorful fish like mollies or guppies.
Zebra Danios are very peaceful fish and make excellent tank mates for other aquarium fish and shrimp.
For small planted tanks, Zebra Danios are one of the easiest fish to keep and care for because they are small and tolerant of changing water conditions.
9. Pygmy Cory Catfish (Corydoras pygmaeus)
Temperature: 74-80 Fahrenheit (23.33-26.67 Celsius)
Cory catfish are fascinating aquarium fish.
These fish have barbels, which look like a mustache or whiskers, that help cory catfish find food.
Cory catfish barbels actually contain taste buds, allowing them to find tasty morsels in murky water and underneath gravel or substrate.
But, cory catfish barbels are also somewhat fragile.
This makes it is especially important to provide your corys with softer/smooth substrate, which means substrate/gravel without sharp edges.
Because substrate particles are typically very small, it may be hard to tell if you have a sharp or smooth substrate.
Generally, if your substrate feels sharp to your fingers then it will feel sharp to the fish.
If you want to be extra careful, consider a substrate like Fluval Stratum, which has rounded particles, providing a smoother surface than crushed lava rock type gravels.
Corydoras can thrive in a range of water conditions and small species like the Pygmy corydoras is especially suited for tanks smaller than 10 gallons.
Corydoras are typically shy and nervous aquarium fish and do best in groups of 4-5.
While they are easy fish to care for, keep in mind that corydoras are bottom dwelling fish and need to be fed near the bottom of the tank.
Sinking pellets are ideal for feeding cory catfish, as well as live and frozen foods, like bloodworms.
If you are keeping other fish with your corys, make sure food is actually reaching them and not being snatched away by the other fish in your tank.
10. Endler’s Livebearers (Poecilia wingei)
Temperature: 76-80 Fahrenheit (24-26.6 Celsius)
The Endler’s Liverbearer is a lot like a guppy and can actually breed with guppies to create hybrid offspring.
One noticeable difference between Endler’s Livebearers and guppies is the color scheme of Endler males, which display a distinctive pallete of colors across their bodies.
Endler’s Livebearers make excellent nano fish, thriving in small planted tanks.
They are one of the few fish I would recommend for a 3 gallon setup.
Like guppies, Endler’s livebearers breed prolifically, so make sure you have a separate tank to raise the babies, or consider keeping a tank of only males.
Endler’s Livebearers are an excellent choice for beginner aquarists or those who want to add some color and activity to a freshwater shrimp tank.
11. Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus )
Temperature: 72-78 Fahrenheit (22.22-25.55 Celsius)
Bolivian Rams are excellent beginner cichlids because they only reach 3-4 inches in length and have less of an attitude than other cichlids.
They are typically less colorful than other cichlids, but they make up for that by having a very “cichlid” personality, being curious and interactive, at least compared to other aquarium fish.
Bolivian rams can actually be kept with other peaceful aquarium fish, like rasboras and tetras, but make sure your tank is large enough and has plenty of hiding places.
Bolivian rams will leave most other aquarium fish alone, but if a pair of these rams gets into breeding mode, these rams will chase away and bully other fish in the aquarium.
As far as cichlids are concerned, these are some of the easiest to keep because they are small and far less aggressive than other cichlids.
But, even though these rams are relatively small, they will do best with some extra room as cichlids are very active.
A tank of 20 gallons is recommended, but a pair of Bolivian rams could be kept in a 10 gallon if frequent water changes are performed.
12. Kuhli Loaches (Pangio kuhlii)
Temperature: 76-82 Fahrenheit (24-27.8 Celsius)
Kuhli loaches are an incredibly interesting looking fish, having an eel-like appearance.
They are nocturnal and tend to be shy, but in a groups of 3 or more they become more confident and you will see them cruising around looking for leftover food.
The great thing about Kuhli loaches, compared to other loaches, is that they remain small (4 inches), making them one of the few loaches that can thrive in a 10 gallon.
If you plant to keep a larger group of Kuhli loaches, or other aquarium fish in the same tank, a 20 gallon long is a better choice.
Kuhli loaches are relatively easy to care for, but they do prefer more acidic water (lower pH) than most of the fish in this article.
Depending on where you live, this may be an advantage or a hardship, as lowering pH can be tricky.
Kuhli loaches enjoy a varied diet of live, dry, and flake foods, but keep in mind that Kuhlis are bottom dwelling fish so sinking pellets are especially helpful for keeping them happy and healthy.
Fish That Do Not Qualify As the Easiest to Keep
The fish listed below are actually wonderful fish to keep and extremely rewarding if you take the time to create the proper setup for them.
But, for the most part, these fish are not easy to care for unless you have room for large tanks or, in some cases, the patience and time to maintain the correct water conditions for these fish to thrive.
This fish below are not the only aquarium fish require extra effort and space to properly care for them, there are countless others.
These are simply 3 of the most common that new aquarists might consider keeping based on how famous or iconic these fish are in the aquarium hobby.
1) Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
Goldfish can easily reach 1ft in length or more (try searching for “giant goldfish” on Google), and are ideally kept in large tank or ponds.
While goldfish are easy to care for, enjoying a varied diet of pellets, flakes, and veggies, they do not make my list of easiest fish to care for because they are messy, need frequent water changes, and will quickly outgrow smaller tanks.
Goldfish come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are curious and engaging fish.
But, if you do want to keep goldfish do your research, otherwise you may be buying more fish than you bargained for.
2) Angelfish (Pterophyllum)
Angelfish are beautiful and come in a variety of colors, making them a truly tempting choice for your aquarium.
But, consider that Angelfish are a type of cichlid, and that means they are feisty.
Angelfish originate in the Amazon basin in tropical South America.
Water in their native habitats is typically “soft” or acidic (a pH less than 7) and temperatures are on the warmer side, 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Like the other fish on this list of “not the easiest to care for,” Angelfish need considerable space, 30-50 gallon aquariums or larger being ideal.
Angelfish are known to live 10-15 years in captivity and are relatively easy to keep if provided consistent care and water changes.
When it comes to feeding, Angelfish happily accept flakes, pellets, live, frozen, and freeze-dried fish foods.
But, due to their aggression, they are best kept in larger tanks with other angelfish.
3) Discus (Symphysodon)
Discus are incredibly stunning fish.
Their flat plate-like shape gives them a unique and exotic among aquarium fish and Discus also come in a variety colors and patterns.
But, they are notoriously tricky to keep, at least for the inexperienced.
So why are Discus considered hard to keep?
Well, Discus are native to the Amazon river basin in South America.
This means that they are accustomed to “soft” or acidic water with lower pH.
So, for aquarists who do not have access to appropriately soft tap water, the solution is to use RO (reverse osmosis) water.
Water changes for Discus may become expensive and time consuming, especially because Discus need very large, preferably planted, aquariums to thrive.
Discus are a shoaling species, doing best in groups.
They also eat a lot (being large fish) and tend to be messy, meaning you will need to perform consistent water changes (at least 25% once a week).
So, basically, for purposes of this article, Discus are not the easiest fish to keep because proper care for this aquarium fish requires specific and consistent water conditions as well as a massive tank.
The fish mentioned in this article are only a few of the aquarium fish in existence.
There are many more fish out there that may be easy for you to keep and as you learn more about water chemistry and the needs of specific fish, a much wider variety of fish, invertebrates, and plants open up to you.
So, do your research, and enjoy the process of watching your little ecosystem change and grow.
As always, stay zen aquarists.