Ever since we got into the aquarium scene we’ve been on the lookout for different kinds of colorful freshwater fish. There are so many amazing-looking species out there!

But while the vast number of options is definitely a good thing, if you’re shopping around it can make choosing between them a bit difficult.

Just when you think you’re ready to make a decision, you discover another pretty fish that tempts you into rethinking everything. This can get tiresome after a while.

Then when you add in the level of difficulty and required care, it can get even more confusing.

That’s why we put together this list of our favorite colorful freshwater fish to help you out. It includes a wide range of beautiful species, so there’s something for everyone!

1. Peacock Cichlid

A colorful Peacock Cichlid

We’re starting off our list of colorful freshwater fish with the Peacock Cichlid. This species is absolutely gorgeous and will stand out in any tank.

One of the things we like most about this fish is the number of different kinds there are. This gives you the flexibility of choosing between a variety of different colors. Some are blue, some are bright yellow, and some come in a wide range of reds.

These fish come from the massive Lake Malawi (the ninth-largest lake in the world), and their color will vary based on what area of the lake they live in. Our personal favorite is the strawberry type, but they’re all super pretty!

Unlike some other cichlids, the Peacock is pretty easy to take care of. We recommend them to aquarists who want a colorful fish without much hassle.

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 55-60 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Size: 4-6 inches

2. Jack Dempsey

One Jack Dempsey fish swimming in a dark aquarium

The Jack Dempsey Fish is a beautiful species that has a mix of very interesting colors and patterns. We like the electric blue coloration the most because of the amazing and vibrant light blue.

The electric blue variant can be a little harder to find, so be prepared to do some hunting if you’re sold on that color. These kinds are also a little bit smaller too.

The standard color variation has various stripes and bright turquoise spots on their sides which creates a glimmering effect under the right light. It’s not uncommon to see some red on the tips of their fins as well.

While these fish are definitely pretty, there is a downside. They can be quite aggressive and will gladly pick fights with just about any fish that gets on their bad side. This is the main obstacle you’ll have to navigate when it comes to their care.

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 55+ gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Size: 10-15 inches

3. Electric Blue Acara

A bright Electric Blue Acara in a planted freshwater tank

This is one of our all-time favorite freshwater fish because of their pretty and vibrant colors. Looking at the stunning metallic blue never gets old. This species looks like a shiny blue missile moving through the tank!

What really makes them neat is the yellow ridge that runs along the top edge of their dorsal fin. There’s a little bit of yellow on their caudal fin as well. This color combination is absolutely perfect.

Their head isn’t as shiny as the rest of their body. It’s more of a rich blue.

Another reason we like these fish is their temperament and level of required care. Unlike some of the other fish on our list (especially the cichlids), this species is rather tame. If you’re looking for a splash of color without any violence, consider the Electric Blue Acara.

  • Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 6-7 inches

4. Discus

Three Discus Fish swimming together

Discus fish are one of the first colorful freshwater species that people think of. They have quite a well-earned reputation!

There are many different kinds of Discus which come in a variety of colors. You’ll see bright greens, blues, reds, and yellows splashed all across their body.

These colors come in a mix of stripes, dots, and patches (depending on the kind you have). Our favorite is probably the “Checkerboard” variety because of the mesmerizing pattern they have.

There’s something about the shape of their bodies that really helps showcase their unique colors. Their long and flat sides function like an art canvas!

While these fish are peaceful, there are a few challenges when it comes to their care. This species requires very specific water parameters and a complex diet in order to thrive.

  • Care Level: Advanced
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 8 inches

5. German Blue Ram

A bright German Blue Ram with yellow sides

This colorful freshwater fish has one of the more unique patterns out there. While a lot of the other species on our list have a lot of their coloration and patterns happening behind their head, the German Blue Ram has stuff going on everywhere!

The first thing you’ll notice about this fish is the long dark streaks that run over their eye. They usually have a splash of that same color on the front of their dorsal fin, and a dot of it in the middle of their body as well.

This gives them kind of a “punk rock” look that we love. The back half of their bodies often have a ton of small spots that evenly cover their body and fins (this varies a bit based on the specimen though).

Our two favorite color variations are the orange body with bright blue dots and yellow body with purple streaks.

These are quite easy fish to keep as well. They’re peaceful, low-maintenance, and rather small.

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 2.5 inches

6. Endler’s Livebearer

A cute freshwater fish called the Endler's Livebearer

Endler’s Livebearers are a cute little fish that many aquarists love. While there’s a lot to like about them when it comes to their ease of care, the main draw is their color.

This species can come in a number of different color variations. The ones you’ll commonly see are orange, blue, green, and red.

These colors are randomly scattered all over their bodies. You’ll see dark spots next to long streaks, followed by a patch of no color whatsoever!

Their tiny size goes quite well with these colors. When they swim these fish look like little specks of color flying around the tank!

One of the best things about this fish is how easy they are to keep. Even if you’re a beginner, Endler’s Livebearers won’t be an issue for you. They’re one of the more low-maintenance fish on our list!

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 1.5 inches

7. Paradise Fish

A red, blue, and purple Paradise Fish

It wouldn’t be right for a species with the name “Paradise” to be anything but colorful! Without question, this is one of the most popular fish on our list because of their beauty.

The most common variation has strong and vibrant reds, oranges, and blues that play into each other nicely with vertical stripes. There’s also a blue and orange striped kind that’s easy to get your hands on as well.

But what makes this species one of the prettiest fish out there is the combo of their color and fins. Paradise fish have long, flowing fins that trail behind them when they move. They look like bright ribbons moving around the aquarium!

The biggest challenge when it comes to keeping these fish is their potentially aggressive nature. These fish are feisty which means you’ll have to pay close attention to this if you keep them with other creatures.

  • Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive (situational)
  • Size: 2.5 inches

8. Gourami

A colorful freshwater Gourami fish swimming in the aquarium

After Cichlids and Bettas, Gourami are one of the most popular species on this list. Not only are they incredibly unique, but they look great too.

With bright colors and interesting patterns, these fish stand out in any kind of freshwater tank. When you combine this with the fact that they spend their time near the surface, you have a nice way to add a vibrant aesthetic that stays out of the way.

There are so many different kinds of Gourami, but we have a few favorites. Dwarf Gourami, Sparkling Gourami, Honey Gourami, and Pearl Gourami are species we recommend to anyone.

Not only are these tropical fish pretty, but they’re also low-maintenance (in general). As long as you have the right kind of habitat set up and don’t pair them with incompatible species they’re a breeze to own.

They do well in planted tanks, so if you’re not into aquariums with a lot of vegetation this isn’t the fish for you. We love the meshing colorful fish with bright green plants so in our opinion, it’s a match made in heaven!

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 10-20 gallons minimum (species dependant)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 1-5 inches

9. Killifish

A colorful Killifish

Killifish are a really interesting species that definitely deserves to be on this list. Some of the color variations this fish has are simply gorgeous!

The combination of red spots on a bright blue body makes these fish very easy to spot in any tank. There is a variation called the Clown Killifhs as well, which has a blueish-green body with vertical white stripes and a vibrant tail with red horizontal stripes (that’s our favorite).

These fish are a good choice for aquarists of all experience levels because of their easygoing nature and flexible water parameters. This species can be sensitive to changes in habitat conditions, but as long as you maintain a consistent environment everything will be fine.

Since these fish are small and prefer to swim in schools, it makes them one of the most fun species to observe. Watching a bunch of these colorful critters dart around your aquarium never gets old!

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 2 inches

10. Electric Yellow Lab

Electric Yellow Lab fish

This species is called a number of names in the aquarium community. The two most common are the Electric Yellow Lab and the Electric Yellow Cichlid.

As you would expect from the name, the dominant color of this fish is yellow. And “dominant” is putting it lightly. This yellow on their bodies is unbelievably vibrant, making them one of the most colorful freshwater fish without a doubt.

On their dorsal, ventral, and anal fins you’ll see some black that runs from one side to the other. The yellow and black combo is a classic that really makes them look quite snazzy!

These fish are semi-aggressive which means you’ll need to keep them with the right tank mates. In general, they’re not very challenging to care for as long as you take the time to set them up with the right habitat.

  • Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Size: 4 inches

11. Betta Fish

A colorful Betta Fish

Chances are if you’re been interested in aquariums for longer than 5 minutes you’ve heard of Betta fish. This is by far the most popular freshwater species out there, and the reason is simple.

They’re beautiful.

Now before we say any more it’s important to note that we’re talking primarily about the males here. While female Bettas have their own special charm, males are significantly more colorful.

There’s so much variation, but you’ll see a lot of reds and blues with this fish. When you pair this with their long flowing fins it really makes for a gorgeous display.

Even though these are considered great starter fish, there’s still some work you have to do as an owner. These fish require a specific range of water parameters and can show signs of aggression (they enjoy nipping fins from time to time as well).

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 5-10 gallons minimum
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Size: 3 inches

12. Flowerhorn Cichlid

A colorful Flowerhorn Cichlid fish

Even when you take color out of the equation, Flowerhorn Cichlids are really a sight to see. With their nuchal hup (the large lump on their head) they bring a very unique look to your tank.

These fish come in a mix of colors, but the most common is a bright red-pink with white spots all over. There will also be some black patches that run laterally down their midline and sometimes on their hump as well.

Sometimes you’ll see the white spots be more dominant than the red on their bodies. This is our favorite variation personally, but it can be hard to find.

These fish are very smart and are known to build a very close bond with their owners. There are some great videos online of owners petting and hand-feeding their Flowerhorn!

The real trick with this fish is their size and aggression. These suckers can be mean! Their size means you’ll need some space in your home for a large tank as well. These two factors make them not very beginner-friendly, but they can be a great fish to work up to.

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 70 gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive, very aggressive
  • Size: 12 inches (sometimes longer)

13. Cherry Barb

A Cherry Barb swimming in a planted tank

In our opinion, the Cherry Barb is a very underrated fish when it comes to color and beauty. While everyone flocks to the more popular species, this fish has continued to be one of the cutest and easiest creatures to care for.

They get their name from the rich red that covers their whole body. Depending on the specimen you might find some that are a bit on the lighter side, but if you manage to track down a dark red one you’ve struck gold!

These are also a model species when it comes to care requirements. They’re extremely peaceful and perfect for anyone who wants a low-maintenance species to look after. We recommend them to beginners all the time because they bring a tropical and exotic look without any hassle.

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 25-30 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 2 inches

14. Zebra Danio

One Zebra Danio in a dim aquarium

This species a little 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

15. Oscar Fish

Oscar Fish in a freshwater aquarium

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 wich 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

16. Fancy Guppies

A colorful freshwater fish called the Fancy Guppy swimming alone

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 fun 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

17. Duboisi Cichlid

A Duboisi Cichlid swimming toward the camera

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

18. Green Terror Cichlid

A colorful Green Terror Cichlid

This is definitely one of the most colorful freshwater fish out there. They have a lot of pattern similarities with the Oscar Fish but feature more vibrant colors.

Because of their name, Green Terror Cichlids intimidate a lot of aquarists. While they definitely have aggressive tendencies you need to manage, they’re a lot more approachable than most people think.

This is one of our favorite fish to watch swim around in a tank. There’s something about the power and grace they exhibit that’s awe-inspiring.

It’s important to have a good understanding of their baseline care requirements so you can provide these fish with a good home. Failing to do so will cause you a lot of headaches in the long run.

  • Care Level: Intermediate-Expert
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Size: 8 inches

19. Harlequin Rasboras

Two Harlequin Rasboras swimming together in a freshwater aquarium

One of the things we like about this species is how simple and clean their aesthetic is. While a lot of the other fish on our list jump right out at you 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 some great contrast because the sharp angles make it stand right 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

20. Celestial Pearl Danio

Two pretty Celestial Pearl Danios swimming together

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

21. Neon Tetra

A close up picture of a Neon Tetra

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 whatever 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. 10-15 at minimum 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

22. Jewel Cichlid

A Jewel Cichlid floating in a freshwater tank

The Jewel Cichlid is a gorgeous fish that many people like. Their bright and shiny colors create a glimmering effect when they swim (it’s really fun to look at).

There are a few different variations you can find, but red is the most common. This kind is bright red all over their body with white spots that evenly cover their sides and fins. It’s common for there to be two large dark spots (about the size of their eyes) on each side as well.

The one thing you need to look out for when considering this fish is their aggression. They are very feisty and will happily pick a fish with just about any other species they bump into.

In order to manage this, you’ll need to keep them in the right habitat and likely avoid community tanks. Luckily, their beauty more than makes up for these constraints!

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 30-40 gallons
  • Temperament: Aggressive 
  • Size: 6 inches

23. Bluefin Notho

A colorful Bluefin Notho fish

The Bluefin Notho is a kind of killifish that deserves their own spot on this list. Honestly, these might be the prettiest and most colorful freshwater fish out there!

Their bodies start off bright orange with some light blue spots scattered about. The further back you go, the bluer they become. Their orange fades and the blue spots become more and more vibrant.

Our favorite visual characteristic of this fish is its fins. The blue and black pattern is unbelievable, and their caudal fin has a bright orange ridge that stands out a mile away.

When you combine their looks with the ease of care, getting this species is a no-brainer.

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 10-15 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 2-2.5 inches

24. Boeseman’s Rainbowfish

Two Boeseman's Rainbow fish swimming in separate directions

This species features a more simple color pattern than some of the other fish on our list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty! There’s something about this clean look that we really like.

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 aren’t any fancy patterns, stripes, or dots to be found.

These fish are relatively active which makes them a lot of fun to watch throughout the day. They’ll rarely take breaks and are very curious about anything that’s happening in the aquarium.

It’s important to pay close attention to the water parameters if you purchase this fish. They can be very sensitive to changes in the water, and don’t have very wide parameter ranges to work with.

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 3-4 inches

25. Cardinal Tetra

One Cardinal Tetra swimming between plants

The Cardinal Tetra looks a lot like the common Neon Tetra to the untrained eye. The blue and red are almost an exact match when it comes to the hue and shade!

But the big difference happens on their underside. The red portion of these fish is far more pronounced and extends from underneath their eye all the way to their caudal fin.

This means a school of these tropical fish will create a primarily red effect as they swim around. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Everything else when it comes to caring for and owning these fish is pretty much the same as the Neon. This makes it an easy transition if you plan on getting one for yourself (always study the care requirements just to be safe though).

  • Care Level: Beginner
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 2 inches

26. Clown Loach

A group of Clown Loaches

When you think of colorful freshwater fish, loaches don’t normally come to mind. But the Clown Loach is totally different.

This popular species has one of the most aesthetically pleasing patterns you can find. The orange bodies and thick black bands make them extremely pretty without being too noisy.

These fish are quite large and can reach up to a foot in length. This means you’ll need a pretty large tank if you intend on owning one. They also require some rather specific conditions in order to thrive, so we don’t recommend them to beginners.

  • Care Level: Intermediate-Expert
  • Tank Size: 100 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 12 inches

27. Apistogramma

A colorful Apistogramma with orange fins

Last but definitely not least is the Apistogramma (also called Dwarf Cichlids). These are easily one of our favorite species and we’ve been a fan of them for years.

There are so many different types with gorgeous colors that we can’t possibly mention all of them here. Different combinations of bright orange, blue, teal, yellow and more are possible!

They also have very flashy fins. This makes them extremely useful fun to observe in your aquarium because there’s always a flicker of color.

  • Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Size: 3 inches max

Time To Hit The Store!

We hope you enjoyed this list of colorful freshwater fish. We’ve had hands-on experience with all the species on this list, and wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone.

No matter how experienced you are or what level of difficulty you prefer, there should be something for everyone.

Fishkeeping should be approachable to everyone, and even beginning owners should have the chance to take care of a vibrant and beautiful tank.

If there are any colorful fish that you think we should add to the list we’re more than happy to consider it. We want to make this guide as helpful as possible!

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