In eels, large variations in larval mortality exist, which would impede the viable production of juvenile glass eels in captivity. The transcriptome of European eel larvae was investigated to identify physiological pathways and genes that show differential regulation between non-viable vs. viable larvae. Expression of genes involved in inflammation and host protection was higher, suggesting that non-viable larvae suffered from microbial infection. Expression of genes involved in osmoregulation was also higher, implying that non-viable larvae tried to maintain homeostasis by strong osmoregulatory adaptation. Expression of genes involved in myogenesis, neural, and sensory development was reduced in the non-viable larvae. Expression of the major histocompatibility complex class-I (mhc1) gene, M-protein (myom2), the dopamine 2B receptor (d2br), the melatonin receptor (mtr1), and heat-shock protein beta-1 (hspb1) showed strong differential regulation and was therefore studied in 1, 8, and 15 days post-hatch (dph) larvae by RT-PCR to comprehend the roles of these genes during ontogeny. Expression patterning of these genes indicated the start of active swimming (8 dph) and feed searching behavior (15 dph) and confirmed immunocompetence immediately after hatching. This study revealed useful insights for improving larval survival by microbial control and salinity reduction.