Entering the aquarium world, we’ve been constantly searching for various colorful freshwater fish. There are countless spectacular species available!
However, the abundance of choices, although exciting, can make the selection process somewhat challenging. Just when you believe you’ve made your final choice, another beautiful fish catches your eye, making you reconsider everything. This can become exhausting after some time. Furthermore, when you factor in the care level and specific needs of each fish, the decision-making process can become even more daunting.
That’s why we’ve compiled this list of our top colorful freshwater fish to assist you. It encompasses a broad spectrum of stunning species, ensuring there is something suitable for everyone!
Kicking off our list is the magnificent Peacock Cichlid. This species is incredibly beautiful and will be a highlight in any aquarium.
What we particularly appreciate about this fish is the variety of subtypes available. This allows you to select from a multitude of colors. Some are blue, others are vivid yellow, and there are also a variety of red shades.
These fish originate from the vast Lake Malawi, the world’s ninth-largest lake. Their coloration is influenced by their specific location within the lake. While we are particularly fond of the strawberry variant, all of them are exceptionally attractive!
Moreover, unlike other cichlids, Peacock Cichlids are relatively easy to care for. We suggest them for aquarists seeking a colorful fish that does not require extensive maintenance.
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 55-60 gallons • Temperament: Semi-aggressive • Size: 4-6 inches
The Jack Dempsey Fish is a splendid species exhibiting a medley of fascinating colors and patterns. We are particularly fond of the electric blue hue, mainly because of its astonishing and lively light blue shade. Finding the electric blue variant might be a bit challenging, so brace yourself for a bit of a search if you are determined to get that color. Additionally, these variants are somewhat smaller in size.
The typical color variation displays an array of stripes and bright turquoise spots on its sides, resulting in a sparkling effect under appropriate lighting. It is also quite common to observe some red on the fin tips.
Despite their beauty, these fish have a drawback. They tend to be quite aggressive, readily engaging in conflicts with almost any fish that crosses them the wrong way. This characteristic is the primary challenge to address in their care.
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 55+ gallons • Temperament: Aggressive • Size: 10-15 inches
Electric Blue Acara
The Electric Blue Acara ranks high among our favorite freshwater fish, owing to its beautiful and lively hues. The breathtaking metallic blue never ceases to amaze, making the species resemble a glossy blue projectile traversing the tank!
A distinct feature is the yellow ridge that extends along the upper edge of their dorsal fin, with a hint of yellow also present on their caudal fin. This blend of colors is utterly exquisite. The head of the Electric Blue Acara is not as lustrous as the rest of its body, exhibiting a more saturated blue tone.
Another aspect that endears us to these fish is their demeanor and the level of care they necessitate. Contrary to some other species on our list (cichlids, in particular), this one is relatively mild-mannered. If you desire a burst of color without the accompanying aggression, the Electric Blue Acara is worth considering.
• Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate • Tank Size: 30 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 6-7 inches
The Discus fish is often one of the first species that come to mind when thinking about colorful freshwater fish. Their reputation for vibrant colors is well-deserved!
Discus fish are available in a wide array of colors, including bright greens, blues, reds, and yellows, all of which are displayed on their bodies in various forms. These colors manifest in stripes, dots, and patches, depending on the specific variety.
We are particularly fond of the “Checkerboard” variant due to its captivating pattern. The body shape of the Discus fish accentuates their distinctive colors. Their elongated and flat sides serve as a perfect canvas for displaying their colorful hues!
Although these fish are generally peaceful, their care requirements can be quite demanding. They necessitate precise water parameters and a diverse diet to flourish.
• Care Level: Advanced • Tank Size: 50 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 8 inches
German Blue Ram
The German Blue Ram exhibits a unique pattern among colorful freshwater fish. While many species on our list have most of their coloration and patterns concentrated behind their head, the German Blue Ram has interesting markings all over its body!
The most striking feature of this fish is the long dark streaks across its eyes. This color usually extends to the front of their dorsal fin and a spot in the middle of their body.
The German Blue Ram exudes a “punk rock” vibe that we adore. The posterior half of their bodies typically features numerous small spots that cover their body and fins evenly, although this can vary slightly depending on the specimen.
Our preferred color variants are the orange body with bright blue dots and the yellow body with purple streaks. The German Blue Ram is relatively easy to care for. It is peaceful, low-maintenance, and small in size.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 20 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2.5 inches
Endler’s Livebearers are adorable little fish that are a favorite among many aquarists. While they are appreciated for their ease of care, their primary attraction is their vibrant coloration. This species is available in several color variations, including orange, blue, green, and red.
These colors appear haphazardly distributed across their bodies, with dark spots adjacent to long streaks, followed by colorless patches! Their small size complements their colors beautifully. When they swim, these fish resemble tiny, colorful specks darting around the aquarium!
One of the greatest advantages of Endler’s Livebearers is their ease of care. They are suitable for beginners and are among the least demanding fish on our list.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 10 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 1.5 inches
It wouldn’t be appropriate for a fish with the name “Paradise” to be anything less than colorful! Unquestionably, this is one of the most sought-after fish on our list due to its stunning appearance.
The most frequently seen variation boasts vibrant shades of red, orange, and blue, which blend beautifully with vertical stripes. There is also a variant with blue and orange stripes that is relatively easy to acquire. However, what sets this species apart as one of the most beautiful fish is the combination of its coloration and fins.
Paradise fish possess long, flowing fins that trail behind them as they move, resembling bright ribbons swirling around the aquarium!
The primary challenge with keeping these fish is their potentially aggressive nature. They are spirited creatures, necessitating careful observation if housed with other aquatic inhabitants.
• Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate • Tank Size: 20 gallons • Temperament: Aggressive (situational) • Size: 2.5 inches
Following Cichlids and Bettas, Gouramis are one of the most popular species on this list. They are not only incredibly unique but also visually appealing. Featuring bright hues and intriguing patterns, these fish command attention in any freshwater tank.
Their preference for staying near the surface contributes to a lively aesthetic without being intrusive. There is a vast array of Gourami types, but a few stand out as our favorites. We highly recommend the Dwarf Gourami, Sparkling Gourami, Honey Gourami, and Pearl Gourami.
These tropical fish are not only visually pleasing but also relatively low-maintenance. Providing the appropriate habitat and avoiding incompatible tankmates will make their care relatively straightforward. They thrive in well-planted tanks; thus, if you are not fond of aquariums with abundant vegetation, these fish may not be suitable.
We, however, appreciate the harmony of colorful fish and bright green plants, making it, in our view, a perfect pairing!
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 10-20 gallons minimum (species dependent) • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 1-5 inches
Killifish are a fascinating species that undoubtedly merit inclusion on this list. Some of the color variations exhibited by this fish are absolutely breathtaking!
The juxtaposition of red spots on a vivid blue body makes these fish easily noticeable in any tank. There is also a Clown Killifish variant, which features a bluish-green body with vertical white stripes and a vibrant tail with horizontal red stripes – this is our personal favorite.
These fish are suitable for aquarists of all skill levels due to their amiable nature and adaptable water requirements. Although sensitive to changes in habitat conditions, maintaining a stable environment ensures their well-being.
Given their small size and preference for swimming in groups, they are one of the most entertaining species to observe. The sight of these colorful creatures darting around your aquarium is endlessly captivating!
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 20 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2 inches
Electric Yellow Lab
This species is known by several names in the aquarium community, the most common ones being Electric Yellow Lab, Electric Yellow Cichlid, and Yellow Lab Cichlid. As the name suggests, the primary color of this fish is yellow – and not just any yellow, but a vibrantly radiant yellow that makes it one of the most colorful freshwater fish you can find.
Their dorsal, ventral, and anal fins feature some black that runs from one side to the other, giving them a classy and snazzy appearance with the classic yellow and black combination. These fish are semi-aggressive, so it’s essential to choose the right tank mates.
Generally, they are not very challenging to care for, provided you create the right habitat for them.
• Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate • Tank Size: 50 gallons • Temperament: Semi-aggressive • Size: 4 inches
Betta fish are undoubtedly one of the most popular freshwater species, primarily because of their stunning beauty. It’s worth noting that we are mostly referring to male Bettas here. While female Bettas have their charm, males are notably more colorful.
Their color variations include a lot of reds and blues, and combined with their long, flowing fins, they make a gorgeous display.
Though they are considered great starter fish, they require specific water parameters and can sometimes show signs of aggression, such as fin nipping.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 5-10 gallons minimum • Temperament: Semi-aggressive • Size: 3 inches
Even without considering their color, Flowerhorn Cichlids are a marvel to look at. Their nuchal hump (the large lump on their head) gives them a unique appearance. They come in various colors, but the most common is a bright red-pink with white spots all over their body.
There are also black patches running laterally down their midline and sometimes on their hump. In some variations, white spots are more dominant than red, which is our personal favorite, though it can be hard to find.
These intelligent fish can form a close bond with their owners, as seen in online videos of owners petting and hand-feeding their Flowerhorns. The challenge with this fish lies in its size and aggression. They can be quite mean, requiring a large tank, making them not suitable for beginners but a great species to work up to.
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 70 gallons • Temperament: Aggressive, very aggressive • Size: 12 inches (sometimes longer)
We believe the Cherry Barb is a very underrated fish in terms of color and beauty. While everyone is drawn to more popular species, this fish remains one of the cutest and easiest to care for. Their name comes from the rich red color that covers their body.
Some specimens may be lighter, but finding a dark red one is like striking gold! They are a model species in terms of care requirements, being extremely peaceful and perfect for those looking for a low-maintenance species.
We often recommend them to beginners as they bring a tropical and exotic look without any hassle.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 25-30 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2 inches
This species is a bit different from the others on our list because they’re not quite as vibrant, but their pattern and subtle coloration still make them stand out. They get their name from the dark horizontal stripes that run along their body from head to tail.
This creates a very neat effect when they’re swimming around (especially when they’re moving fast). The two most common base colors are either dark blue or faded yellow. These fish are very social and active.
As shoaling fish, you’ll likely be getting a few of them for your tank if you want them to thrive. It’s a lot of fun to watch a group of them dart around the aquarium.
Zebra Danios are very easy to take care of as well. They’re hardy fish that can handle a variety of water parameters, and won’t cause any trouble with their tank mates.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 10-15 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2 inches
Without question, Oscar Fish deserve a place on our list of colorful freshwater fish. This species has a really interesting orange and black color combo that looks spectacular. Their bodies are black with solid orange dots and patches stretching across their body.
In the right lighting, this can actually look a bit intimidating. That’s especially the case when you learn about their potential to be aggressive toward other fish.
These fish are tough and will not hesitate to attack other fish that rub them the wrong way. However, this is far more likely to happen if you keep them in an inadequate tank. If you follow the recommended care instructions then these fish are far more manageable.
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 55 gallons • Temperament: Aggressive • Size: 10-12 inches long
Fancy Guppies are a very pretty fish that have been growing in popularity lately. Even though these fish have always been a common aquarium staple, there seems to be a spike in interest. One way to describe the shape of these fish is as stretched out Bettas.
They have a longer and thinner body but have a large fan-like caudal fin that flows a bit when they move. There are a variety of colors and patterns you can get these fish in. Our favorite is the Dumbo Ear because of the red tiger pattern on the tail.
These are also very approachable and easy to take care of. You can keep them in pretty much any kind of tank and they won’t cause any trouble. They’re also very hardy which gives you a little bit of breathing room when it comes to water parameters.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 5-10 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2 inches
This is an overlooked cichlid that we really like. One of the most interesting things about this species is the fact that they change colors as they age. When they’re young they’re black with bright dots all over their body.
They look like the night sky! As they age these spots begin to fade and they develop a large yellow stripe about one-third of the way back from their head (which becomes blue). This interesting change leads a lot of aquarists to assume they’re dealing with two different species when they see pictures. The difference is quite drastic!
When it comes to water parameters, these fish are pretty flexible. However, their aggressive behavior is something you’ll need to pay attention to.
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 50 gallons • Temperament: Aggressive • Size: 4-5 inches
Green Terror Cichlid
This is undoubtedly one of the most colorful freshwater fish available. They have a lot of pattern similarities with the Oscar Fish but feature more vibrant colors. Because of their name, Green Terror Cichlids intimidate many aquarists.
While they indeed have aggressive tendencies that need to be managed, they are much more approachable than most people think. This is one of our favorite fish to watch swimming around in a tank. There is something about the power and grace they exhibit that is awe-inspiring.
It’s important to have a good understanding of their baseline care requirements to provide these fish with a good home. Failure to do so will cause you many headaches in the long run.
• Care Level: Intermediate-Expert • Tank Size: 50 gallons • Temperament: Aggressive • Size: 8 inches
One thing we like about this species is its simple and clean aesthetic. While many other fish on our list immediately catch your eye with outlandish and bright colors, the Harlequin Rasbora is a bit more understated.
With a nice orangeish-light pink base color, they look great in your tank without being over the top. The black patch on the back half of their bodies provides great contrast because the sharp angles make it stand out! Since these are shoaling fish, you’ll be keeping a group of them in your tank at the same time (at least 8).
It looks so pretty to see a bunch of them swimming around together, especially if your tank is well-planted. They’re also really easy to take care of, which is definitely a bonus. We find ourselves recommending this species to other aquarists all the time!
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 10 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2 inches
Celestial Pearl Danio
We’ve always had a soft spot for this species, and know many other aquarists who feel the same way. These colorful freshwater fish are not only a joy to observe but rewarding to care for as well. There’s something about their calm and peaceful nature that is quite endearing.
This species doesn’t want to cause any trouble and just wants to cruise around the tank and be happy! With attractive white spots and red accents on their fins, it’s not hard to figure out where these fish got their names. The “celestial” pattern is almost hypnotizing to watch.
Because of their fairly hardy nature, ownership shouldn’t be very challenging (no matter how much experience you have). These fish make things easy for you and are definitely a good choice if you’re looking for something low-maintenance.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 10 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: One inch
The Neon Tetra has been a staple in the fishkeeping community for ages. They’re extremely approachable for beginners and add a (tiny) splash of color to any freshwater tank you keep them in. There’s also a Green Neon Tetra you can consider as well.
Since these are schooling fish, you’ll need to commit to buying a bunch of them. A minimum of 10-15 is usually recommended. When it comes to aesthetics, this is great because these fish aren’t very big. Having them in a school puts on more of a show!
It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced aquarist or a beginner setting up their first tank, this species won’t be a challenge. They’re hardy and peaceful, so as long as you put together a good habitat, they’ll be just fine.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 20 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 1.5 inches
The Jewel Cichlid is a beautiful fish that many people admire. Its bright and shiny colors create a sparkling effect when it swims (which is really fun to observe).
There are several different variations available, but red is the most common. This type is bright red all over its body with white spots evenly distributed on its sides and fins. It’s also common to see two large dark spots (about the size of their eyes) on each side.
The one thing to be cautious about when considering this fish is its aggression. They are very feisty and will readily engage in conflicts with almost any other species they encounter.
To manage this, you’ll need to provide the right habitat and probably avoid community tanks. Fortunately, their beauty more than compensates for these limitations!
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 30-40 gallons • Temperament: Aggressive • Size: 6 inches
The Bluefin Notho is a type of killifish that deserves a special mention on this list. Honestly, they might be the most beautiful and colorful freshwater fish out there!
Their bodies start off bright orange with some light blue spots scattered around. As you move towards the back, they become bluer. The orange fades, and the blue spots become increasingly vibrant.
Our favorite visual characteristic of this fish is its fins. The blue and black pattern is incredible, and their caudal fin has a bright orange edge that is extremely noticeable.
Combining their appearance with the ease of care, acquiring this species is a no-brainer.
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 10-15 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2-2.5 inches
This species has a simpler color pattern compared to some other fish on our list, but that doesn’t make it any less attractive! There is something about its clean appearance that we really appreciate.
The front half of these fish is blue, and the back half is yellow or orange (with the shades varying based on the specimen). There are no fancy patterns, stripes, or dots.
These fish are relatively active, making them entertaining to watch throughout the day. They rarely take breaks and are very curious about everything happening in the aquarium.
It’s important to closely monitor the water parameters if you purchase this fish. They are very sensitive to changes in the water and have a narrow range of acceptable parameters.
• Care Level: Intermediate • Tank Size: 30 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 3-4 inches
The Cardinal Tetra appears quite similar to the common Neon Tetra for those not well-versed in fish identification. The hues and shades of blue and red are almost identical! However, a significant difference lies in their underside.
The red section of these fish is much more prominent and stretches from beneath their eye to their caudal fin. This means a group of these tropical fish will primarily display a red effect as they move around, which is quite entertaining to observe.
In terms of care and ownership, everything else is pretty much the same as with the Neon Tetra. This makes it an easy switch if you plan on getting one for yourself (although it’s always important to study the care requirements just to be safe).
• Care Level: Beginner • Tank Size: 20 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 2 inches
Loaches are not usually the first fish that come to mind when thinking of colorful freshwater fish, but the Clown Loach is an exception.
This popular species has one of the most visually appealing patterns available. The orange bodies and thick black bands make them extremely attractive without being overly flashy. These fish can grow quite large, up to a foot in length, necessitating a significantly large tank if you plan on owning one.
They also require specific conditions to thrive, so they are not recommended for beginners.
• Care Level: Intermediate-Expert • Tank Size: 100 gallons • Temperament: Peaceful • Size: 12 inches
Last but certainly not least is the Apistogramma, also known as Dwarf Cichlids. They are easily one of our favorite species, and we have admired them for years.
There are so many different types with stunning colors that it is impossible to list them all here. Various combinations of bright orange, blue, teal, yellow, and more are possible!
They also have very flashy fins, making them incredibly fun to observe in your aquarium as there is always a flicker of color.
• Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate • Tank Size: 30 gallons • Temperament: Semi-aggressive • Size: 3 inches max
We hope you enjoyed this list of colorful freshwater fish. We have had hands-on experience with all the species listed here and wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone. Regardless of your experience level or preferred level of difficulty, there should be something suitable for everyone. Fishkeeping should be accessible to all, and even beginners should have the opportunity to care for a colorful and beautiful tank. If you think there are any colorful fish that we should consider adding to the list, we are more than happy to take it into account. We aim to make this guide as helpful as possible!