It’s relatively easy to find out what the top cryptocurrency is at any given time: essentially, it’s Bitcoin. However, the market moves so quickly that it’s a lot harder to keep up with what’s happening below.
That’s because while we all know about Bitcoin and how rich we’d be today if we’d invested in it 10 years ago, there are hundreds, if not thousands, or other cryptocurrencies. Many are alternative — supposedly improved — versions of Bitcoin, but others, like Ethereum, are much more than just a currency.
Whether you’re thinking of investing or are just intrigued by this new financial world, it’s well worth finding out what the top cryptocurrency performers are. And unlike 10 years ago, we now know that it is a legit asset, as big banks, funds, and millions of individuals include crypto in their investment portfolios.
Latest cryptocurrency news (updated May 9)
What is the top cryptocurrency by value?
So, which is the top cryptocurrency right now? One approach is to look at market capitalization — essentially the total dollar value of a company’s shares of stock. And in that regard, it’s hard to see beyond Bitcoin and Ethereum, which have sizable leads over their respective competition.
You can also look at the price of an individual cryptocurrency share, or coin, which is useful for knowing how well (or otherwise) a crypto is performing, but it doesn’t always tell the full story. So we’re sticking with market cap for this guide to the top cryptocurrency performers right now.
That said, many of the other crypto projects listed below are super interesting and certainly worth looking further into. And with new cryptocurrencies such as SafeMoon and Chia springing up seemingly every day, we’ll be updating this top cryptocurrency list regularly.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This roundup does not constitute investment advice and you should be aware that buying cryptocurrency, like any investment, involves risk. In fact, cryptocurrency is in some ways more of a risk than other investments, due to the huge rises and falls in the value of even the top cryptocurrencies. We’d recommend never spending more than you can afford to lose.
With that caveat in mind, here are all the top cryptocurrencies (by market cap as of May 8) and the stories behind them.
1. Bitcoin (BTC)
Bitcoin market cap: $1.08 trillion
Bitcoin value: $57,821
The Bitcoin story: Bitcoin has been around since 2008 and is the blue chip cryptocurrency. It has, by far, the largest market cap, the highest coin value, and the largest network of users.
Bitcoin was created by an unknown person or group who goes by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. It was supposed to be the cash of the future, and although you can use it today to purchase many goods and services, you wouldn’t use it to buy a cup of coffee because the cost of the transaction would be too high.
Think of Bitcoin instead like the gold of the future: not really useful for daily transactions, but you want to have some for its stored value. It’s also like gold in that it has a limited supply, which is one of the things that makes Bitcoin so attractive to investors: a total of 21 million Bitcoins will ever be released, which makes Bitcoin inflation-proof.
Bitcoin performance history: Like all cryptos, Bitcoin started out worth virtually nothing. In 2017 it took off from under $1,000 to over $20,000, but within a year was down around $4,000. In late 2020 it began skyrocketing again, this time from around $10,000 to the $50,000-plus orbit it’s in today.
How to buy Bitcoin: Bitcoin can be purchased on crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance, and Kraken; at Bitcoin ATMs; on PayPal; and on Robinhood. Don’t be put off by the high price of a coin: you can invest as little as $25 in Bitcoin on Coinbase.
2. Ethereum (ETH)
Ethereum market cap: $452.7 billion
Ether value: $3,882
The Ethereum story: If there is another contender for the top cryptocurrency title, it’s Ethereum. But it doesn’t compete with Bitcoin. It’s important to note that many so-called cryptocurrencies aren’t straight-up currencies like Bitcoin. Some, like Ethereum, are instead unique technologies that also have a coin component. In Ethereum’s case, its currency is called Ether, and it can be used in applications run on the Ethereum platform.
Ethereum is the leader in what’s known as these “smart contract” platforms. While Bitcoin was created for one use case — as a currency — Ethereum was founded by Vitalik Buterin in 2015 with bigger and broader ambitions. The blockchain it runs on is programmable, meaning it can run programs, or apps, in a decentralized way, i.e., on millions of computers at once. This opens up many possible use cases, from technology and finance to gaming and collectibles, making Ethereum an attractive investment.
Ethereum performance history: In the past year, Ethereum’s price has shot up from around $200 to well over $2,000. As of today, it was trading as high as $3,882.
How to buy Ethereum: You can buy ETH on the major crypto exchanges, Robinhood, and PayPal.
3. BinanceCoin (BNB)
BinanceCoin market cap: $103.1 billion
BinanceCoin value: $672
The BinanceCoin story: BinanceCoin was launched in 2017 by the Binance cryptocurrency exchange, the world’s largest crytpo exchange by volume. During its initial coin offering (ICO), it sold 100 million coins to the public at $0.15 per coin. BinanceCoin can be used to pay transaction fees on the Binance exchange, to trade for other cryptocurrencies, and to pay for some goods and services. Every quarter, Binance uses 20% of its profits to buy back and destroy BinanceCoins. This will continue until Binance buys back and destroys 50% of the total supply, making its coin scarcer and therefore more valuable.
BinanceCoin performance history: Since launching in 2017, BinanceCoin has made a long, slow climb to about $60 a coin, before shooting upwards in February 2021. As of today (Sunday, May 9) it was trading in the $670 range.
How to buy BinanceCoin: The best place to buy, sell, trade, and hold BinanceCoin is… Binance!
4. Dogecoin (DOGE)
Dogecoin market cap: $63.5 billion
Dogecoin value: $0.49
The Dogecoin story: Dogecoin bills itself as “the fun and friendly internet currency.” Launched in 2013 by software developers Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer as a satire of Bitcoin and the exploding popularity of crypto, it’s basically a Bitcoin clone with a cute dog meme for a mascot.
Dogecoin has no real use (though some people use it to give small tips on social media), but it’s developed a growing fanbase that’s boosted the price of a Dogecoin from less than a penny a few months ago to about $0.61 today, making it one of the top cryptocurrency performers by market cap if nothing else. Dogecoin also started what is now known as the “memecoin” space. If you’re looking for the next big memecoin, it could be SafeMoon, which launched in March 2021 and already has over a million users. SafeMoon encourages investors to buy and hold by imposing a 10% fee on anyone who sells their tokens.
Dogecoin performance history: In early 2021, Dogecoin crossed the $0.05 threshold for the first time, then went to the moon in April, recently trading at an all-time high of $0.70, although it dropped to below $0.50 following Elon Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live.
How to buy Dogecoin: You can buy Dogecoin on Robinhood and many of the major crypto exchange like Binance and Kraken, but it’s not available on Coinbase.
5. Tether (USDT)
Tether market cap: $55.5 billion
Tether value: $1
The Tether story: Tether is unique among the options in our top cryptocurrency list: it’s the leader in the category of cryptocurrency known as “stable coins.” Why stable? Because they are pegged to a traditional currency, in this case the US dollar.
For investors, these tokens offer the joint benefits of open blockchain technology and traditional currency. Tether was launched in 2015 and operates on the Ethereum platform. USD Coin is another stable coin, and many crypto folks think it’s a safer bet than Tether, citing a greater transparency.
Tether performance history: One Tether token = one USD. Always has, always will.
How to buy Tether: Buy, sell, and use Tether tokens at Coinbase, Binance, Kraken, and other major crypto exchanges.
6. Cardano (ADA)
Cardano market cap: $55.2 billion
Cardano value: $1.71
The Cardano story: Cardano, founded in 2017, is another Ethereum-like contender for the top cryptocurrency crown: a blockchain platform that supports applications, systems, and real-life business use cases. It’s a promising technology but, like all the others, has a lot of catching up to do with Ethereum in terms of its network size.
What makes Cardano unique is that it is the first blockchain platform to evolve out of a scientific philosophy and a research-first driven approach. The development team consists of a large global collective of expert engineers and researchers, and the platform was built through peer-reviewed…