So, you’re looking for the perfect underwater pal to bring life into your room, living room, or office space eh? Well, I’ve compiled the following list based on my own experiences and the experiences of others- aquarium enthusiasts and newbies alike. I’ve scoured dozens of help articles, forums, and word-of-mouth verbal data to bring you guys a list of what I think are the best pet fish currently on the market (that you can easily obtain).
Last updated: 2/4/18.
Now, of course, “best” is a subjective term. For this post, I define the “best” pet fish as a species that have a satisfying combination of a few factors- popularity, entertainment, coloration and patterning, don’t cost a fortune to buy, don’t cost a fortune to own, somewhat easy to care for, and which I personally think are just plain awesome (of course). Don’t like the list? Too bad. It’s here to stay (and highly opinionated). Without further delay, here’s my only slightly biased list of the…
Top 5 Best Pet Fish of All Time (Freshwater Only)
Okay, take that weird look off your face and hear me out. Ask yourself, why am I dumbfounded? Because a part of you knew that goldfish would be an obvious answer. Why? Because they’re one of the most popular pets out of all pets on the market, probably ever since the hobby was created.
Popularity: High. Probably the most popular aquarium pet in existence.
Entertainment factor: Medium. Even with a 3-second attention span, goldfish have been known to have personalities and even perform simple tricks.
Colors and patterns: Goldfish come in dozens of amazing colors and patterns. They’re much more than the orange creature you see in a bowl. Popular types include the Comet, Ryukin, Fantail, Veiltail, Pearlscale, Oranda, Panda Moor, Black Moor (check out our guide for Black Moor Goldfish care), Bubble Eye, Telescope Eye, and Celestial Eye.
Cost of fish: Medium. Typical costs range from less than $1 up to $15 each. Exotic species can peak upwards of $120.
Cost of ownership: Medium. The bare essentials will run you about $30 to $60. You’ll need all the typical equipment to properly take care of one, such as a filter, air pump, aquarium heater, goldfish food, water conditioner, and a 20 gallon (minimum) aquarium.
StickPets sells adjustable aquarium heaters that suit any tank! Check them out here.
Care level: Easy. Goldfish are a hardy species and can withstand a variety of water temperatures. Regular basic care and weekly partial 25% water changes will suffice.
Awesome? “Simply” yes.
Many people still don’t know what a Betta fish exactly is.
You know when you go to the pet store and you see those colorful fins packed in those small little plastic containers? Yeah, those are (suffering) Bettas. Go pick one up and become a foster parent. It’ll reward you with its dazzling array of colors…and bubble nests (a feature of males only, FYI).
Popularity: Medium to High. Not quite as popular as goldfish, but still well-known. It’s surprising that many still don’t know about them, or at least what they’re called.
Entertainment factor: Medium. Males make bubble nests (mass groups of bubbles that float at the surface of the water) that can be quite fascinating to watch (some females have been known to do this too). Males will also flare up when another male is in sight. Don’t ever house 2 males together, and don’t force them to flare too often. It’s stressful on the Betta.
Colors and patterns: Bettas offer some of the most amazing patterning and coloration in all species of fish. There is a HUGE selection of Betta types that vary in tail shape, number of tails, body shape, colors, and patterns. Popular tail patterns are the Veil Tail (arching tails), Crowntail (spiked tail), Halfmoon (180 degree tail spread), Delta Tail and Super Delta (single tail with varying spread), Double Tail (split tail), and even more. Colors also vary. Coloring can be solid, or bi-colored. Colors range from black, red, orange, turquoise, cellophane (clear), yellow, blue, and more. Even the patterning of the colors varies- such as a dark brown body with gold fins (Chocolate Betta). Some Betta types can even change color significantly. I encourage you to do an image search on these Betta types so you can get a visual representation of their coloration. There are way too many to list and words don’t do them justice.
Cost of fish: Low. Typical Bettas can be purchased at your local pet store for about $3-10. Exotic Bettas can hit upwards of $80.
Cost of ownership: Low. Bettas can thrive in smaller (but never too small) aquariums with minimal equipment. 3 gallons is the lowest I’d go. 5 gallons and upwards to 10 gallons is excellent. You could always go bigger, but then if the aquarium isn’t decorated, it’d look a little empty. High water flow isn’t necessary (and isn’t recommended). A basic hang-on-back filter will do the job. You’ll also need a mini aquarium heater for Betta fish. The heater needs to be small and compact enough to fit inside your tank, without any parts exposed if it’s a fully-submersible aquarium heater. You can get all the essentials for $20 to $40.
We sell mini aquarium heaters perfect for Betta fish.
Care level: Easy. Bettas have some special water needs (water must have essential minerals). You can either buy Betta water from the pet store or treat your own at home using a water conditioner and adding the correct portions of salt. If you want to know more about this, do a search and read. There are a ton of resources out there that teach you exactly how to do this. Other than that, caring for a Betta is no sweat.
Awesome? Beautifully yes.
Don’t let their permanent frown turn you off. A typical (non-fish owner) may think Oscars are “ugly” or “unsightly.” How shallow. Oscars may not be as “handsome” as other species, but that’s okay. They’re missing out on a hidden treasure chest of amusement. These tropical freshwater giants are one of the most entertaining cichlids that you can own. Oscars come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. But besides their coloring, there’s something else you should know- Oscars are highly regarded as one of the most intelligent species of fish.. They’re known to recognize their owners and have their own personality. Oscars sulk when upset, dart around when hungry, and hover about when happy. They also change colors depending on their mood. Oscars are known as the “dog” of fish.
Popularity: Medium. Oscars aren’t that popular with your average person due to their higher maintenance and costs. However, if you ask anyone who owns or has some knowledge about cichlids, chances are they’ll know about Oscars.
Entertainment factor: High. Oscars have been known to greet their owners when they come up to the tank by swimming happily since they know it’s feeding time. They have their own personality and react to different things in unique ways. Oscars are easily taught to be hand fed. They’ll hungrily jump out of the water and eat from their owner’s hand. Some owners even “pet” their Oscar in the tank (seriously?). Truly the “dog” of fish.
Colors and patterns: Oscars have wide variety assortment of patterns and colors, the most common patterns being the Tiger Oscar, Red Oscar, Common Oscar, and Albino Oscar. Tiger Oscars have bold stripes (just like a tiger) along their body, whereas the Red, Common, and Albino Oscars generally have darker solid colors and less striping. Tiger and Red Oscars are dominantly red and orange. Common Oscars are generally yellow, grey, or light green. Albino Oscars are dominantly white with shades of red or orange. There are dozens more that are a mix of different patterns and colors, and some that even form a class of their own. Lutino Oscars look similar to Albinos, but have darker shades of coloring. Some rare strains include the Sunshine Lemon Oscars, which are an attractive shade of bright yellow. Bloody Red Oscars are entirely composed of a vibrant shade of dark red. Golden Oscars and dark yellow and almost entirely composed. Some Oscars also have specially bred tail and body sizes, such as the Veiltail Oscar and Balloon Oscar. As you can see, there are a TON of variations among Oscars…many of them mesmerizing enough to kick off that “ugly” stereotype. Again, I suggest for you to do an image search to see for yourself.
Cost of fish: Medium to High. Typical Oscars range from $5-10 for smaller ones, and up to $45 for larger ones. Price also varies depending on Oscar type (colors and patterns). Rare strains can cost hundreds.
Cost of ownership: High. Oscars require a 55-gallon tank at minimum (for a single Oscar). These fish are extremely messy eaters and produce a huge bioload, thus you need a bigger tank to ensure water quality. (Smaller tanks are more easily polluted.) A secure lid is also required. Chances are that your Oscar will learn to feed from your hand and will jump for food. If you’re not around and the Oscar jumps out, that’s no good. They need the whole shebang of aquarium equipment- an aquarium heater, filter (canister filter recommended, or multiple power filters), water conditioner, aquarium hood, thermometer, water testing kit, and a varied diet along with supplements. A larger tank requires more powerful equipment due to the increased volume. You’ll need an aquarium heater with a higher wattage, a filter that has a higher circulation rate, and slightly increased dosages of a quality water conditioner (due to a larger tank). Oscars can be destructive fish and uproot plants as well as crack glass heaters. Make sure that the heater you use is “oscar-proof,” meaning it’s made of durable material. As for the thermometer, it’s recommended to use an external digital thermometer. Internal ones will get pushed around (and maybe broken) by the Oscar. It’s not really because you have to buy more stuff that makes it more expensive.It’s just that the stuff you buy is more “heavy duty.” Typical costs vary widely- anywhere from $100-300.
We have some nice durable heaters that are fully adjustable.
Care level: Intermediate. Oscars are definitely a hardy species and can withstand some not-so-optimal habitats here and there. However, to provide the best for your Oscar, you should get the biggest tank possible with the correct water temperatures, parameters, and feeding schedules. Regular water changes are critical and a powerful filter is a necessity. Clean your filter often. Test your water often. Oscars are certainly a messy breed and produce a large bioload (waste) on the ecosystem of your aquarium. You’ll find that with larger and messier tanks, canister filters are a lot more popular. These filters look like a giant cylinder and usually go below your tank. They basically suck the water out of the tank by siphoning it through the input tube. The water then fills the canister and runs through a series of biological, mechanical, and chemical stages (for most filters) and then pump the water through the output tube back into the tank. They work a lot more efficiently for larger tanks with messy inhabitants. They are pricier than regular power filters so it may not be a choice for everyone. If you choose to go with regular hang-on-back (HOB) filters, you’ll probably need multiple filters running at opposite ends of the tank. Oscars are also aggressive. Choosing compatible tank-mates for Oscars is also important. This may seem like a lot of information, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. There a ton of resources online for you to learn everything you need to care for these amazing creatures. Be sure to read up before you buy. Here’s an excellent in-depth introduction to the Oscar fish from a website I recommend checking out- it pretty much has everything you need to raise a happy Oscar, along with an active community to help you along the way. Oscars are a highly rewarding species to own. Adopt one and turn its frown upside-down.
Awesome? Probably my “best pet fish” on this list. (Oscar owner here, it’s hard NOT to be biased ;]).
4. Neon Tetras
Cool, cheap, and easy to care for. These schooling fish emit a cool flash of light from the luster of their scales. Since Neons are highly social, they swim together in groups and reflect light simultaneously. Imagine it’s feeding time. You pour some flakes into the aquarium and they all feed together, darting around the tank. Every time they move or change direction, light will bounce off their shiny scales. How cool is that? The effect looks even more awesome when under a source of light. You can even make them glow different colors by changing the color of the source light.
Popularity: High. Neons are widely known in the freshwater community. An excellent choice for beginners and well-recommended due to their hardy nature and inexpensive cost of ownership. They can also tolerate a wide temperature range and don’t require a huge aquarium. You can have a large group without the need for a lot of space.
Entertainment factor: High. If you don’t think feeding a huge school of flashy pearls and watching them swarm the food and going berserk is entertaining, then maybe being an aquarist isn’t going to be all that fun of a hobby for you. I still encourage you to rescue and adopt a friend from those overcrowded containers, give the Neons a try. Maybe they’ll grow on you.
Colors and patterns: Neon Tetras are dominantly silver with bullet-shaped bodies, with darker bluish heads. Their scales reflect light and emit a flash whenever a light source is present. This is fascinating to watch as they swim around in schools (the larger the better). You can also make them glow different colors using different bulbs to give off a mesmerizing, hypnotic luminescence.
Cost of fish: Low. Neon Tetras will run about $2 to $3 each. Who says shiny things need to be expensive?
Cost of ownership: Low. Neon Tetras need only the basic necessities. A 10-gallon tank will be cozy for a school of 5-6 Neons. Depending on aquarium size and the number of Neons you get, your aquarium heater wattage and filter GPH output will need to be adjusted. Housing too many in a small aquarium calls for a more powerful filter due to the increased bioload. A larger tank calls for a higher wattage aquarium heater and powerful filter. Don’t get a weak filter just because you have a small tank. Pay attention to what’s inhabiting the tank. As you can see, it depends on both tank size and number of inhabitants. If you’re going with a 10-gallon tank, an adjustable aquarium heater is a lot more useful over a static heater (where you can’t set the temperature). Some heaters are permanently set to an arbitrary temperature and can’t be adjusted- which may or may not be the idea temperature range for Neon Tetras. Note that Neons are native to the Amazon River, where they can easily hide in plant matter when needed. I strongly suggest adding some fake or live plants, along with some other hiding places to make them feel more comfortable. Dense plants provide excellent hiding places for Neons and, if they should breed, their fry (baby Neons). It should cost about $20-40 for all the necessary supplies.
Care level: Easy. Neon Tetras are extremely popular among first-time fish owners. They require low maintenance other than regular partial water changes and cleaning (varies depending on other inhabitants in your tank). They’re also peaceful, which means they get along with many other species as tank-mates. Neon Tetras are one of the best choices for beginners (who may raise 6 Neons), to experts (who may raise 100 Neons), all in the same tank.
Awesome? Shine on.
Guppy fish are almost like miniature versions of Bettas, except that they go well with tank-mates due to their peaceful nature. Guppies have many, many different colors and patterns because they’re one of the most popular tropical freshwater species to selectively breed due to their high rate of proliferation (breeding). Guppies are cheap and easy to care for, without sacrificing anything in the looks department.
Popularity: High. Guppies are very popular among guppy-breeders who selectively breed unique strains. Since they breed so easily, they’re known as the “Million Fish.” Guppies are also a great choice for beginners due to their ease of ownership and cheap cost.
Entertainment factor: Medium. Guppies do well in with other peaceful inhabitants and exhibit a wide range of colors and patterns. You could have a tank with a Guppy of every color. Relaxing and fun to watch.
Colors and patterns: Guppies come in a wide variety of colors and patterns due to the selective breeding. There are way too many patterns and colors to list. I suggest for you to do an image search to see for yourself. Almost every color you could want has been bred into a Guppy.
Cost of fish: Low. Guppies can be bought for as little as $1 to $3. Exotic strains hit upwards of $60.
Cost of ownership: Low. Guppies can be housed in a 10-gallon tank, which can support up to 10. Besides the tank, they require just the bare essentials- aquarium heater, filter, and a water conditioner to do well. Plants are a welcome addition, especially if you plan to breed them. It should run you about $20-40 to get all the supplies. Other inhabitants in the tank (including the Guppies themselves) will eat the fry (Guppy babies), unless you provide somewhere for them to hide and an adequate supply of guppy food. Guppies can eat flakes as a staple and treats here and there, such as lettuce, cucumber, green beans, freeze-dried plankton, freeze-dried bloodworms, and frozen brine shrimp. Plants are the recommended hiding place for Guppy fry.
Care level: Easy. Typical Guppies just need regular partial water changes and a good cleaning (varies depending on other fish in your tank). Excellent choice for beginners and experts alike.
All images licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Awesome? Good stuff come in small packages.
Well, that sums up my list of the best pet fish that are currently on the market. I made this list to help anyone who needs a “can’t-go-wrong” species to get started with, or that are pondering the infamous question: “what fish should I get for a 10-gallon tank?” I think all 5 in this list would make a great hobby for anyone who’s interested in picking up the hobby, or for aquarists looking for something new. All of these fish are relatively easy to care for, relatively low cost, and don’t require too much special attention to maintain. So…get off your chair and head out to the pet store. Adopt one of those poor fish in those overstocked aquariums and rescue him. Be a proud foster parent today and reap the rewards of relaxation and amazement. Do it. Now.
Note that this list is to simply give you an idea of what’s out there. It’s not meant to be a care guide of any kind. You need to do your own complete research and learn about whatever species you’re interested in. If you’re too lazy to do the research, you’re simply not ready. And most importantly, be sure that your tank is cycled BEFORE you buy your underwater pal. DO NOT buy all the equipment, fill up your tank with water, and plop your fish in. It doesn’t work like that. You’ll most likely kill your fish from ammonia or chlorine poisoning. Don’t know what cycling is? Do a search. After you’ve done your reading and have a good understanding of what it takes to care for an Oscar, or a Guppy, or whatever you desire, then comes the fun part. You’ll find that the whole process of choosing the right equipment, setting everything up, and simply the experience of owning one is a lot more smooth and enjoyable (less panic). And a lot more educational too, if you’re into that sort of thing ;].
Like the list? Hate the list? Which one do you want? Which one do you own? What do you think is the best pet fish of all time? Have your say below.