Nishikigoi/Koi fish are highly sought-after in the aquarium fish trade. Being an aerial-view fish, one has to view them from the top to admire their beauty.
They come in multiple colors (like red, white, black, yellow, etc., or in a combination of colors). Due to their enticing looks, breeders have replicated similar colors/patterns in different fish species (like Koi Angelfish, Koi Betta, Koi Galaxy Betta, etc.).
This article introduces 18 popular types of koi fish varieties, how are they classified, and ways to identify them.
How are Koi Fish Classified
There are 16 categories and 100+ subcategories of koi. Their classification is primarily on colors, patterns, and scales. Some names of koi fish also include the imperial dynasties that developed them.
|Colors Used in Nomenclature|
|Doitsu – Koi||fish with no scales.|
|Ginrin||Koi with shiny/glittering scales.|
|Tancho||White koi with only a red spot/mark on the head.|
|Maruten||Koi with a red mark on the head + other red patterns on the bodies.|
|Butterfly||Koi fish with long, flowing fins.|
|Most koi fish have these subtypes. The red markings on the body are also called red (hi).|
18 Types of Koi Fish With Names and Pictures/Videos
Koi fish with deep/bright colors(s), clear (not hazy) patterns with no smudged colors on boundaries, and symmetrically distributed markings are considered good. A spot/mark on a particular body part can make them rare and expensive.
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It is the oldest, most common, and most popular koi fish species. A white body with red markings (or shades of red) distinguishes it from the rest. While the red markings develop randomly in shape and size as the juveniles grow, expert breeders develop Kohaku with desired markings by breeding selective lineages.
A clear white tail fin area and evenly distributed deep red/orangish-red markings of the same color are desirable traits in Kohaku. Depending on the number of red (hi), there are different types of Kohaku koi like – Nidan (two-step), Sandan (three-step), Yondan (four-step), and Godan (5-step). The image is of a scaleless Yodan Kohaku, with four distinct red (hi) on each side.
There are subtypes like Doitsu, Ginrin, Tancho, etc. A Kohaku with markings that are not well-rounded/zig-zag along the edges is known as Inazuma.
2. Taisho Sanshoku
Emperor Taisho ruled Japan from 1912-1926. Sanshoku or Sanke means three colors. Thus, Taisho Sanke/Shanshoku refers to the three-colored koi breed developed during the Taisho era.
Also known as Sanke, this breed has a white base color with red and black markings on the body with no sumi (black) mark on the head. Evenly spread dark-black markings on a pure white base color and uniform red/orangish-red markings are traits of a good quality Taisho Sanke.
There are subtypes based on the dominant color (red), places where the black marks are (on the red or the white), number and placement of red patterns (Nidan, Sandan, etc.), Doitsu, Ginrin, Tancho, etc.
3. Showa Sanshoku
Also known as Showa Sanke or simply Showa, it also has white, red, and black markings. This koi breed evolved during the reign of the Showa emperor (1926 – 1989). It has gone through several changes to its current form.
Showa has a black-colored body with red and white markings. A sumi marking on the head distinguishes it from the Sanke. An ideal Showa specimen has dominant black color and bright well-defined markings with minimum white (shiro) pattern. Sumi should also spread to the base of their pectoral fins (motoguro). They often have all three colors on their heads in random patterns.
Further subcategories include Doitsu, Ginrin, Tancho, Butterfly, etc.
Author’s Note: Gosanke (three families) represents the top-3 in any product/service/category. Kohaku, Sanke, and Showa are known as koi Gosanke globally. The trio represents the most popular and essential koi fish breeds that have won numerous awards for excellent sizes, colors, and shapes. They are available as Gosanke in the koi fish trade.
Koi fish with red (crown-like) hi on the head is known as Tancho.
The rarest Tancho koi fish has porcelain white (spotless) bodies with a unique red (hi) on the heads. Tancho gains importance as it symbolizes the Japanese flag (red and white) colors. Besides, it is also the name of a divine Japanese crane (Grus Japonensis) which signifies good luck. The red (hi) on the head may assume any shape.
Tancho koi are the most challenging to breed, as it is difficult to control the markings on their body and develop only a single red (hi) on a specific place (head). The multiple genetic formations involved are difficult to identify and replicate. Even the offspring of two Tancho koi may not be Tancho.
There are different subtypes of Tancko koi like
- Tancho Kohaku – They have random red (hi) on white bodies besides red crowns on their heads.
- Tancho Sanke – They have white base-colored bodies, red crown marks, and red and black markings on their bodies.
- Tancho Showa – They have red crowns and black marks on the heads, with red and white markings on black base-colored bodies.
There are Doitsu, Ginrin, Butterfly, etc. subtypes. Any koi breed can have a Tancho version.
Technically, all pure white Tancho qualify as a Kohaku, but every Kohaku might not be a Tancho. The two differ as pure white Tancho koi is rare, while Kohaku is the most common breed.
Did you know? Like Koi Bettas, there are Koi Tancho Bettas as well!
The Bekko koi have yellow, white, or red-colored bodies with random sumi (black) markings on the bodies. The black markings should start from their shoulders and continue till the start of the tail fins.
There are three different types of Bekko koi fish depending on the base color of the bodies – Shiro (white), Ki (yellow), and Aka (red).
Ideal Bekko koi should have blue eyes with well-balanced sumi markings on the bodies and no markings on their heads and tail fins.
There can be subtypes like Butterfly, Doitsu, Ginrin, etc.
Also known as Utsuri, they have black-colored bodies with white, yellow, or red (hi) on them. They evolved from Showa.
They are the opposite of Bekko, where black is the base body color with contrast-colored markings of one of the three colors. They commonly have markings even on the head/nose area.
There are three different kinds of Utsuri koi fish, depending on the color of their markings – Shiro (white), Hi (red), and Ki (yellow).
Utsuri koi with two colors on the head vertically (black on one side and one of the contrasting colors on the other), known as hachiware, are rare kinds of koi fish.
Metallic, bluish-gray, diamond-shaped scales on the top portion of the bodies with red (hi) on the fins and below the lateral line set them apart from other koi varieties. The red (hi) should be symmetrical. Red eyes are a desirable trait, though all do not all have them.
Asagi lineage is the origin of all koi variants. Different types of koi fish are developed from Asagi as a base. Skulls of Asagi fry(s) are visible through their transparent heads.
Gunjo Asagi (very dark indigo-colored bodies) and Narumi Asagi (deep indigo color at the center of each scale that gets light blue on the outside) are the two major types of Asagi Koi fish.
There are subtypes like Hi Asagi (having more red markings/entirely red bodies), TakiAsagi (having white lines between scales and red (hi)), MizuAsagi (light blue colored), GinrinAsagi, and AsagiSanke.
A cross between German mirror carp and Asagi, it has the honor of being the first Doitsu koi. Asagi and Shusui are the only two blue-colored koi.
Shusui koi breed has light blue/bluish-gray backs with a line of large mirror scales running dorsally from the center of the shoulders to the tail. red (hi) surrounding the mirror scale line on light-colored bodies creates a priceless sight! Shiro (white) lines separate each scale and the red (hi). Their underbody is generally red and rarely yellow.
There are subtypes like Ki Shusui (yellow body with black dorsal line scales and no blue hues), Hi Shusui (high proportion of red (hi) on the body), Pearl Shusui (ginrin dorsal scale line), Hana Shusui (well-balanced red (hi) on both sides above the lateral line).
A hybrid of Kohaku and Asagi, Koromo koi has a Kohaku koi pattern with blue to black scales on the red (hi). Koromo means a robe. The blue/black scales on the red (hi) resemble a robe, explaining their name. Many call it Goromo.
Koromo variants include Ai Koromo (sumi on the red (hi) in a mesh pattern), BudoKoromo (the sumi pattern looks like a bunch of grapes), Koromo Sanke (sumi is like spots), Koromo Showa (large-spotted sumi markings).
A desirable Koromo should have a curve-shaped sumi only on the red (hi). Koromos are challenging to breed because of too many specifications.
Goshiki means five colors. Some believe this koi breed is a cross between Asagi and Sanke while others suggest it is a hybrid of Asagi and Kohaku. Either way, it must have white, red, black, blue(indigo), and gray/brown colors.
The five colors can be in any random pattern. An ideal Goshiki has a white body with a Kohaku style and a mesh-like (netted) pattern of the other three colors.
11. Hikari Mujimono
They are also known as Hikari Mono, HikariMuj, or Ogon. Hikari means shiny and muji/mono means single color.
There are two variants of this koi breed. Ogon and Matsuba Ogon. Ogon have a uniform metallic hue on the entire body, while Matsuba Ogonhave darker scales on metallic bodies. The image at the start of this section depicts the difference in scale coloring.
Depending on the body color and shade of the scales, there are different subtypes like Aka (red) Matsuba, Gin (silver) Matsuba, Orenji (orange) Ogon, Kin (golden) Matsuba, and Yamabuki (yellow) Ogon, etc. The Doitsu version has shiny metallic bodies with no scales.
Their friendly nature makes them popular among koi owners.
12. Hikari Utsurimono
Utsurimono (discussed at s.no six earlier), with metallic bodies, are known as HikariUtsurimono or simply HikariUtsuri. Their black bodies with a white, yellow, or red (hi) may have a golden or silver metallic sheen.
Kin Showa (golden sheen with sumi on the head), Kin Ki Utsuri (golden yellow), Gin Showa (Silversih hue and sumi on the head), and Gin Shiro (Metallic White Utsuri), and Doitsu versions of any of these are the sub types of HikariUtsuri koi fish.
13. Hikari Moyomono
All koi breeds with metallic bodies and two or more colors, except HikariMuji and Hikari Utsuri, fall under this category.
There are many subcategories. Some major ones are:
- Hariwake – two-colored koi fish with a golden pattern on silverish skin.
- Kikusui – Doitsu Hariwake.
- Yamato Nishiki – Sanke with a metallic platinum body.
- Platinum Kohaku – Kohaku koi with a silverish body.
- Kujaku Ogon – means peacock gold. They have a Kohaku-style pattern (of red, yellow, or orange) on silverish skin with Matsuba-like scales. The yellow or orange marking may assume a golden shine. There are further variations of Kujaku that we are not covering here. Some may have all five Goshikicolors on metallic bodies.
- Kin Sui/Gin Sui – Shusui with golden or silverish metallic bodies.
- Sho-Chiku-Bai – Metallic Ai-Koromo (refer to s.no 9).
- Gin Bekko – Metallic ShiroBekko.
- Tora Ogon – Ki Bekko with a metallic body.
14. Kin Gin Rin
As the name indicates, they have shimmery (Rin) scales that shine as they swim. Kin Rinkoi breed has glittery golden scales. The Gin Rin breed has shining platinum/white scales. The scales shine due to a pigment known as guanine that helps them camouflage in the water.
Koi fish with at least three or more neatly arranged lines of glittering scales equally distributed on both sides (left and right) fall in this category.
Gosanke and non-Gosanke are the two main subtypes. Kin Gin Rin variants of Tancho, HikariMuji, and HikariUtsuri fall under their respective categories.
Also known as Kawaigoi, this category includes Koi varieties that are new (undefined), do not fall in any category, or have some flaw that disqualifies them from a particular established type.
Major types include:
- Karasu-Goi – It includes six different varieties of jet-black koi fish, depending on the placement of white color on the body. Of these, Kumonryu (Dragon/Dragonfish) is a popular Doitsu with white marks on the fins, head, and back. It changes colors with the seasons (black/white).
- Mono/single-colored – It has two subtypes.
- Matsuba – Their scales are Matsuba (net-like) and include Aka, Ki, and Shiro variants.
- No pattern – Includes Ki, Aka Muji (red), ShiroMuji (white), BeniGoi (deep red), Cha-goi (milky tea-colored, shades of brown or olive green), SoraGoi(gray/blue), etc. Cha-goi and SoraGoi are gentle giants with large bodies and fast growth rates.
- Cross-breeds – Hybrids between Sanke/Goshiki/Showa with Shusui and Asagi with Bekko.
- Kanoko – It means fawn. Gosanke with disrupted scales which appear like dots in some places due to white lines separating them fall under this category. They are flawed-scale Gosanke.
- Kage Utsuri – They include Utsuri koi (refer to s.no 6) with smoky/faint-colored scales.
- Ochiba Shigure – They have gray/bluish-gray bodies with copper, bronze, or yellow markings.
- Others – This category includes Doitsu- goi (scaleless variants of any of the above), KiKokuryu (Kumonryu with metallic skin), BeniKiKoryu, and BeniKumonryu.
It is essential to understand Doitsu (scaleless). This koi pattern was developed in Germany by crossing a koi with a German carp having no/fewer scales. Doitsu means Germany in Japanese, hence the name.
Doitsu Koi may have no scales or have fewer scales in a particular pattern. There are four types of scale patterns:
- Kawas Goi- Meaning leather carp; this pattern has no scales or a single row of scales around the base of the dorsal fin only on both sides.
- Armor Goi – This pattern has large, hard-shell-like plates lending an armored look.
- In the third Doitsu pattern, scales start from the end of the head and cover the entire body length on both sides.
- Kagami Goi – It means mirror carp. It is similar to the third pattern but has an additional row of relatively larger scales on each side.
17. Kin Kikokuryu
It is a relatively new koi breed. Mr. Igarashi’s Kin Kikokuryu rolled all the eyeballs at the Nogyosai 2000 with its spectacular colors/pattern.
Ki Kokuryu with Kohaku-style Kin (golden) markings on the body is known as Kin Kikokuryu.
There are six variants of this variety, including the one described above.
18. Ghost Koi
Known as Ghosties, this koi variety was bred in the 1980s in Western countries by mating Ogon koi with mirror carp. Some do not consider them as a koi breed.
They have light shiny heads and fins. Random sumi markings on their heads and thick patterns of black scales on entire bodies make them look like ghosts in the water as they swim. They are available in many colors and Butterfly varieties too.
They are a highly sought-after and expensive breed globally due to their weird looks and friendly nature.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does Koi fish cost?
The price of koi fish depends on their type, origin (locally bred or imported from Japan), lineage, vendor reputation, quality, availability, offers, size, shape, color, and traits that conform with established koi standards. Breeds raised for competition/display in shows are more expensive.
The price ranges from $10 onwards. A Kohaku sold for a whopping $1.8 million in 2018 remains the costliest koi fish.
Which is the smallest koi fish breed?
Most koi fish grow 12 – 15 inches on average. A few species assume larger sizes depending on their type.
However, a fancy koi variety called Dwarf Kohaku is bred in Japan and China. Being new, there is little information available about them but they are expected to gain popularity like fancy goldfish.
Do not get overwhelmed by koi varieties and specifications. Instead, understand the unique differentiators of each type. We suggest you bookmark this article as a ready reckoner for koi identification.
You will enjoy hand-feeding these friendly breeds. They are sturdy and survive frozen winters by hibernating during their average lifespan of 25 – 35 years.
We wish you a happy koi-parenting time!