There are now thousands of cryptocurrencies on the market, but not all are equal. A small group of cryptocurrencies have made their way to the top of the crypto game, carving themselves out as highly influential and sought-after.
So, which cryptocurrencies are the most important today?
1. Bitcoin (BTC)
You're probably not surprised to see Bitcoin at the top of this list. But it's not only here for its popularity.
Back in 2009, the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, the first-ever cryptocurrency, making history and founding a new kind of financial industry. Bitcoin is a proof-of-work cryptocurrency that started with a value of almost nothing, though one Bitcoin is now worth over $28,000.
Fittingly, the world's first-ever crypto is now the world's most popular and valuable.
While Bitcoin has hit many milestones before any other crypto, the asset itself is no longer unique. In fact, there are many cryptocurrencies out there that now offer more features than Bitcoin, including our next pick: Ethereum.
2. Ethereum (ETH)
Ethereum was a proof-of-work crypto, just like Bitcoin, for many years after its 2015 creation, and it only switched to the newer proof-of-stake consensus mechanism in September 2022 during the Ethereum 2.0 Merge.
Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum has long since supported the creation of projects and tokens on its blockchain. In fact, some of the other assets listed in this article, including Tether and Chainlink, are Ethereum-based (or ERC-20 tokens).
Ethereum's utility is also fueled by its use of smart contracts. These computer programs automatically execute agreements so long as a specific set of conditions are met, eliminating the need for intermediaries and cutting down costs and resource requirements.
Ethereum also supports NFTs in the form of ERC-721 tokens, expanding its use even further and into the NFT industry. NFTs can be minted, stored, and sold via Ethereum, home of many popular NFT collections.
At the time of writing, one Ethereum coin is worth over $1,800 and stands as the second-most popular, next to Bitcoin.
3. Tether (USDT)
Unlike the majority of cryptos out there, Tether is a stablecoin, meaning its value does not fluctuate nearly as much as standard assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Each Tether (USDT) coin is pegged to the US dollar, meaning one USDT is worth almost or just over one dollar. It is rare for Tether to be worth exactly one dollar, but its value is usually incredibly close to this number.
For example, one USDT is worth $0.9996 at the time of writing, just a fraction less than a whole dollar.
Intentionally keeping a crypto at such a low price may seem pointless, but the idea behind Tether and other stablecoins is to offer a cryptocurrency with a consistently stable price.
Tether wasn't the first stablecoin to be created. That title is given to BitUSD, an asset launched in 2014 that no longer exists. However, Tether has become the most well-known stablecoin (alongside USDCoin) and has showcased how useful stablecoins can be.
4. BNB Coin (BNB)
Once known as Binance Coin, BNB Coin is a crypto asset with similar capabilities to Ethereum. The asset underwent a name change in 2022 amid Binance's effort to ensure that the Binance exchange and Binance Coin remain separate entities.
BNB Coin stands at the heart of the BNB Smart Chain, a blockchain that offers project development, coin creation, and NFT minting and sales.
The BNB Smart Chain, once known as the Binance Smart Chain (BSC), has often been hailed as a competitor to Ethereum, especially with its use of smart contracts.
5. Monero (XMR)
Monero's lure lies within its privacy-focused design. Unlike most other cryptos, Monero obscures transaction addresses and amounts, giving users total anonymity when they trade.
Using RingCT, ring signatures, and stealth addresses, Monero ensures that all transaction information is kept private. We have a more in-depth explainer on how Monero works if you'd like to learn more, but what's important to note here is that it provides all users a compulsory layer of anonymity. In other words, you can't choose to trade Monero transparently.
Monero's ability to conceal identity has made it a hot commodity on the dark web, where users do not want any activity tracked back to them. But at its heart, Monero is made for regular individuals who want to enjoy an elevated standard of privacy.
6. Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
Don't worry; we haven't listed two assets twice in the same list. Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash differ in many ways, and there's a good reason for the latter's creation.
Bitcoin Cash came about in 2017 via a Bitcoin hard fork. The new asset's creators wanted to regain the original purpose of Bitcoin: to provide a decentralized electronic payment system. Bitcoin Cash users contend that Bitcoin itself can no longer provide such a function, as its high popularity results in long transaction waiting times and high-transaction fees. If you want to make a payment, you don't want to wait hours for it to go through.
Bitcoin Cash tackles this issue with its larger block size. While Bitcoin has a meager block size of 1MB (technically 4MB), Bitcoin Cash has a far more impressive block size of 32MB. Fitting vastly more transactions in each block can boost processing times. Bitcoin Cash's lower transaction fees also make it a cheaper option compared to Bitcoin.
7. Polkadot (DOT)
Polkadot's significance in the crypto market involves several factors, including its slot auctions. Polkadot coins can be used by holders in parachain slot auctions. With DOT, users can bid towards a project looking to be its own parachain within the Polkadot ecosystem. The projects themselves also dedicate funds towards winning the auction.
Whatever project wins the auction gets its own parachain, and the funds put forward in the auction are then returned to the users. This allows users on the blockchain to have their say in which projects get the most support from the community.
Polkadot's ability to connect multiple blockchains and break through communication barriers also gives it an interesting edge over many other popular blockchains.
8. Zcash (ZEC)
Like Monero, Zcash is also a privacy coin, though it came to be almost two years after Monero's launch.
What makes Zcash unique is that you can choose whether you want to use a public or private address in your transactions. These two address types are officially known as transparent and shielded and give users the ability to personalize their anonymity levels.
If you're using Monero, you have to stick to total anonymity. But with Zcash, you get to switch between transparency and anonymity, which creates a nice middle ground.
9. Chainlink (LINK)
Chainlink is an Ethereum-based blockchain protocol with a native currency known as LINK. While the Chainlink network exists on top of another preexisting blockchain, it has still made a name for itself as one of the first blockchain oracles.
Blockchain oracles help blockchains communicate with outside sources. The main purpose of an oracle is to grab data from external databases, a process that has long since been challenging in blockchain technology. This external data is then linked to Chainlink's smart contracts, allowing transactions to be executed based on recent real-world information.
There are other blockchain oracles, but Chainlink was the first.
10. VeChain (VET)
VeChain (or VeChainThor) is a Layer-1 blockchain that uses distributed ledger technology (DLT) to simplify supply chain processes, all while remaining energy-efficient. We've seen blockchain technology begin to be implemented in multiple industries, and the supply chain market is no exception.
By storing information in a decentralized manner, it becomes transparent, meaning no one party is hoarding valuable data. This can make supply chain processes much more efficient, allowing all parties access to necessary information in a secure environment.
Though VET is the main currency being discussed here, there is another token that exists within the VeChain ecosystem: VeChain Thor Energy (VTHO). This asset is used to pay for VeChain's energy consumption per transaction. Think of it like ETH being used to pay gas fees on the Ethereum blockchain.
XRP was developed by Ripple and came about fairly early on in crypto history. Launched in 2012, XRP has been through a number of legal controversies over the years, but this doesn't take away from its significance in the market.
What's intriguing about XRP is what it can offer financial institutions: a cheap, fast, and secure way to process payments. XRP does this by acting as a bridge currency between two other currencies.
This can make cross-border payments a much less grueling process, which is great for both businesses and individuals looking to send money abroad.
Will More Influential Cryptos Launch in the Future?
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of cryptocurrencies out there today, but the small number of assets listed above have been hugely influential in both the growth of and criticism directed toward the crypto industry.
The big questions always concern the cryptocurrencies of the future. Will any cryptos become more influential than these?