Top cryptocurrency 2021 by value: Bitcoin, Ether, Dogecoin, BinanceCoin and more

It’s pretty 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, Cardano and Chainlink, are much more than just a currency. And then there’s Dogecoin — which started off as a joke but is now one of the most valuable cryptocurrencies of all.

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 10)

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)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Bitcoin

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Bitcoin market cap: $1.08 trillion

Bitcoin value: $57,635

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 $55,000-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)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Ethereum

(Image credit: Filippo Ronca Cavalcanti/Shutterstock)

Ethereum market cap: $477.7 billion

Ether value: $4,126

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 $3,000. In fact, it recently passed $4,000 for the first time in early May and is currently trading at an all-time high of more than $4,100.

How to buy Ethereum: You can buy ETH on the major crypto exchanges, Robinhood, and PayPal.

3. BinanceCoin (BNB)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Binancecoin

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

BinanceCoin market cap: $102 billion

BinanceCoin value: $661

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 (Monday, May 10) it was trading in the $660 range.

How to buy BinanceCoin: The best place to buy, sell, trade, and hold BinanceCoin is… Binance!

4. Dogecoin (DOGE)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Dogecoin

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Dogecoin market cap: $65.9 billion

Dogecoin value: $0.50

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. It dropped to below $0.45 following Elon Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, but has since rallied slightly and is currently at $0.50.

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)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Tether

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Tether market cap: $55.7 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)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Cardano

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Cardano market cap: $55.6 billion

Cardano value: $1.73

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 research.

Cardano performance history: Cardano was cruising along at about $0.10 from its founding in 2017 until early 2021, when it jumped to well over a dollar and was recently trading at $1.73.

How to buy Cardano: Cardano can be purchased on Coinbase, Binance, Kraken, and many other crypto exchanges.

7. XRP/Ripple (XRP)

Top cryptocurrency listed — XRP/Ripple

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XRP/Ripple market cap: $54.7 billion

XRP value: $1.54

The XRP/Ripple story: XRP’s claim to fame is that it’s the fastest digital asset, enabling near real-time global payments anywhere in the world. As such, some payment providers use XRP to expand their reach, lower foreign exchange costs, and settle payments more quickly. 

XRP was launched in 2012 by a trio of developers, who then created a private company called OpenCoin, now called Ripple Labs, and gifted it 80 billion XRP. This is what makes XRP unique — it is, essentially, a for-profit platform, unlike almost every other crypto project in the world. 

Buyer beware: in late 2020, the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against Ripple and its two cofounders, claiming they raised over $1.3 billion through an unregistered, ongoing digital asset securities offering (aka XRP). The lawsuit is still unsettled.

XRP performance history: Aside from a blip of a spike in December 2017-January 2018, XRP didn’t crack the $0.60 threshold until 2020. As of early May 2021, it was trading at $1.54.

How to buy XRP: The easiest way to purchase XRP is on one of the big crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance, or Kraken.

8. Polkadot (DOT)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Polkadot

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Polkadot market cap: $37.3 billion

Polkadot value: $39

The Polkadot story: Lots of the top cryptocurrency projects have lofty goals, but Polkadot’s is one of the loftiest: to “enable a completely decentralized web where users are in control.” Launched in 2020, Polkadot is the flagship project of the Swiss Web3 foundation. If Web 1.0 was commerce, and Web 2.0 was social, think of Web3 as decentralization. Polkadot’s technology stitches together different blockchains, enabling them to exchange information and transactions and operate together seamlessly.

Polkadot performance history: This crypto was trading at about a nickel until late 2020, when it took off (stop us if you’ve heard this one before) and was recently trading at $41.

How to buy Polkadot: Buy Polkadot on major crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance and Kraken.

9. Bitcoin Cash (BCH)

Top cryptocurrency — Bitcoin Cash

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Bitcoin Cash market cap: $27.4 billion

Bitcoin Cash value: $1,430

The Bitcoin Cash story: Don’t be confused by the name, because Bitcoin Cash is a completely different cryptocurrency to Bitcoin. That said, it does owe its existence to the market leader, in that it was created by a group of developers intent on bringing down the cost of Bitcoin transactions. A further split then resulted in the creation of Bitcoin SV.

Bitcoin Cash performance history: Bitcoin Cash has a lot of catching up to do to Bitcoin in terms of the size of its network. After reaching a high of nearly $4,000 back in 2018, it then dropped considerably and settled to around $300-400 for the next couple of years. A big jump in recent weeks has seen it climb back to more than $1,500, although it’s currently at around $1,400.

How to buy Bitcoin Cash: You can buy Bitcoin Cash on major crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance and Kraken.

10. Litecoin (LTC)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Litecoin

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Litecoin market cap: $26.3 billion

Litecoin value: $380

The Litecoin story: Litecoin, created in 2011 by Charlie Lee, is one of the earliest Bitcoin clones, aka “altcoins,” and is a well-established crypto. It was developed with a focus on speed, efficiency, and wider initial coin distribution than Bitcoin. For example, Litecoin transactions are confirmed every two and a half minutes, which is four times more frequently than Bitcoin transactions. Another difference: Litecoin has a supply cap of 84 million coins, exactly four times Bitcoin’s — this is what makes many investors think of Litecoin as the silver to Bitcoin’s gold.

Litecoin performance history: Litecoin spiked briefly over $300 in late 2017 before dipping as low as $25 in 2019. In late 2020, it began another ascent and recently passed the $400 mark for the first time.

How to buy Litecoin: Litecoin can be purchased on any major crypto exchange, as well as on Robinhood and PayPal.

Top cryptocurrency by value — Chainlink

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Chainlink market cap: $21.1 billion

Chainlink value: $49.7

The Chainlink story: Like Ethereum, Chainlink is less a single cryptocurrency but rather a technology that helps underpin the entire crypto structure. Essentially — and this is necessarily a very stripped-back explanation — it’s a network that enables blockchains to interact with each other and with non-blockchain technologies. You can read more about how it works here. Chainlink also has its own currency, called LINK tokens, of which 1 billion were issued. A total of 35% of these were issued to Node Operators, another 35% were sold to the public and the company retains the remaining 30%.

Chainlink performance history: LINK grew steadily from being worth less than a dollar initially to around $12 at the end of 2020. It’s soared in 2021 and is worth around $50 as of early May 2021.

How to buy Chainlink: Buy Chainlink on major crypto exchanges such as Coinbase and Binance.

12. Uniswap (UNI)

Top cryptocurrency listed — Uniswap

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Uniswap market cap: $20.5 billion

Uniswap value: $39

The Uniswap story: Most cryptocurrency trading takes place on centralized exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance, and Kraken. Uniswap, launched in 2018, is a decentralized crytpo exchange that runs on the Ethereum platform — transaction fees must be paid for in ETH. 

The Uniswap app can swap all different types of tokens but does not connect to the traditional financial network, meaning you can’t convert to USD or Euro or other fiat currencies. (Though you can convert to some stablecoins — see Tether above.) Uniswap also has its own “governance token”: if you own this token, you have a right to vote on the direction of the project’s development. Uniswap recently passed Coinbase in trading volume, and many crypto followers think it could be the future of all exchanges.

Uniswap performance history: Launched in 2018, Uniswap hit a high of $42 in late April 2021.

How to buy Uniswap: Buy Uniswap on major crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance and Kraken.

Jonathan Lesser did not buy any Bitcoin 10 years ago. He recently bought some Dogecoin for the kids.

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