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Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have exploded in popularity as a niche in the cryptocurrency space. An NFT is, at its core, a piece of data stored on a blockchain. But the ownership of that data can change.
So, an NFT could be tied to the ownership of a real-world asset like a parcel of property, a song, or a painting by an Old Master. However, the early success of NFT projects has been with digital pieces of artwork.
While the first NFT was minted back in 2014, the space has only taken off in the last two years. The market for NFT projects soared to over $41 billion in 2021, according to Forbes. That's an amount that's closing in on the entire fine art market!
In a not-so-shocking development, growth in the NFT space has slowed in recent months as cryptocurrencies and tech stocks have sold off. However, NFT projects are still attracting capital, investor interest and up-and-coming artists who would have normally gone through the conventional art scene. And that could still create a massive growth opportunity in the years ahead for investors who target some of the top NFT collections today.
Here, we look at the six biggest NFT projects currently underway. The top NFTs today encompass a number of interests, from gaming and sports-related collectibles, to more singularly artistic endeavors, and offer fascinating long-term opportunities for investors.
NFTs can be ranked several ways, including the total amount of sales, transactions and owners. Leading in one category may not mean leading in all categories, at least for the time being. The NFT projects featured here are the largest in terms of total sales. Check them out.
Data is as of June 28 and is courtesy of NFT projects are listed in order of lowest to highest sales.
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Most of today's NFTs are regarded as a speculation. The value is determined by scarcity and the popularity of an NFT project.
Backed by the millions of fans of the NBA, the NBA Top Shot NFT platform has a chance to become the 21st century equivalent of trading cards.
NBA Top Shot offers officially licensed NFTs that showcase influential "moments" in the North American professional basketball league.
Moments are minted in packs, rather than sold individually, akin to physical trading cards. Packs are currently sold in quantities of three moments per pack. Individual moments can then be sold on the Top Shot marketplace.
NBA Top Shot is the product of Dapper Labs. This NFT company makes a 5% fee on marketplace sales, which is also shared with the NBA.
Some of the most legendary minted moments have hefty price tags. Legendary #49 – which shows Derrick Rose of the Detroit Pistons making a layup during a February 2020 game against the Phoenix Suns – currently has the highest marketplace listing, at $1 million.
NBA Top Shot has over 1 million users on the platform, and recently hit $1 billion in sales. It goes to show that sports memorabilia and collectibles remain a popular – and lucrative – market for investors, even with a 21st century digital twist. 
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Early NFT projects involved the generation and minting of a non-fungible token before it was sold, airdropped or otherwise claimed by their first owner.
Art Blocks looks to turn that idea on its head. Art Blocks hosts a generative NFT platform where artists create a computer script to produce art.
This allows Art Blocks to offer unique, programmable digital art to collectors using NFT drops (the release of a collection). But here's the kicker: The buyer doesn't know what they're receiving beforehand.
The collector becomes the one to mint the NFT – meaning create and then store the digital asset on the Ethereum blockchain.
While this may sound unusual – and what about the NFT space isn't? – Art Blocks has become a successful platform in its own right, with total sales to date topping $1 billion.
The Art Blocks platform has three tiers, starting with curated NFTs. These are top-tier art pieces, with resales in the millions of dollars. Last August, a project known as Fidenza #313 sold for 1,000 ETH, worth $3.4 million at the time. 
Besides these high-end art pieces, there's a Playground project that allows artists to experiment with pieces, rather than focus on the prospective resale value. And there's the Art Blocks Factor tier, for uncurated pieces with more whimsy and flair to them.
Given the platform's depth and breadth, there's likely a digital art project that can fit the budget and aesthetic of any prospective NFT investor.
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The Mutant Ape Yacht Club is a spinoff of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which we'll get to shortly.
It's collection of up to 20,000 NFTs that can only be created by minting through public sale, or exposing a Bored Ape to "mutant serum."
In August 2021, four months after the drop of the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), Yuga Labs made an air drop of mutant serums for all members. The project is expected to be the second and final collection to be a part of the BAYC, and owners are likewise a part of an official club with special events for members.
In addition to mutating existing Bored Apes into a new version (the original BAYC NFT remains unchanged, but the serum is "burnt"), original Mutant Apes could be minted for a starting cost of 3 Ethereum. Today, the floor price – the lowest amount a buyer can spend to own an NFT – for a Mutant Ape is around 17.4 ETH, or about $19,400.
With double the maximum population of the BAYC, the Mutant Ape Yacht Club hasn't garnered prices in the seven-figure area – yet. In February, Mutant Ape #4849 sold for 350 Ethereum, garnering around $835,590.
Those looking for a popular NFT platform that is likely to continue accruing in value might be able to afford a Mutant Ape, given their lower cost relative to Bored Apes. But it's still a high price to pay in the NFT space.
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Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) is a collection of 10,000 unique digital collectibles on the Ethereum blockchain and is owned by Yuga Labs. It was launched in April 2021.
The NFTs are created programmatically using roughly 170 traits that include clothing, headwear and expression. However, as the name implies, all of them look like, well simians with glazed-over eyes.
Each image is stored at an ERC-721 token on the Ethereum blockchain. Ownership of a Bored Ape allows membership to the "Yacht Club" that hosts member-only benefits, including a digital board known as "The Bathroom"
Prices have soared since the BAYC launch, with the cheapest Ape now going for roughly 91 Ethereum on NFT marketplace OpenSea. That works out to around $101,000, given the cryptocurrency's recent price of about $1,100.
That's a huge increase from the initial project price. Even last summer when the project first looked pricey, they were going for around 3.5 ETH, when Ethereum was trading closer to $4,000.
Given the project's maximum cap, it's likely that prices could rise further in time. Especially as this remains one of the more popular NFT projects, with sales of just over $2 billion right now.
And the price increase will likely continue to be fueled by celebrity interest. Bored Ape buyers to date have included Serena Williams, Justin Bieber and Jimmy Fallon.
With celebrity backing, the NFT project has become a hot space in the digital art space. That's another factor propelling prices higher now, but like any trendy celebrity spot, that could change in time.
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Created by Larva Labs, CryptoPunks is an NFT project that was launched in June 2017. The CryptoPunks are 10,000 algorithmically generated 24×24 pixel art pieces of human profiles.
The project was the inspiration for ERC-721, which is the standard for non-fungible tokens being used on the Ethereum blockchain. This is in contrast to ERC-1115, which can create semi-fungible (or interchangeable) tokens on NFT projects.
The NFT images themselves are developed with inspiration from London's punk scene, as well as cyberpunk films and novels. These simple images are said to have set off the dramatic growth NFTs saw in 2021.
At the time of its launch, the CryptoPunks collection was free, and anyone with an Ethereum wallet could claim them. The only cost for potential acquirers were the gas fees – the cost to process a transaction – on the blockchain, which were quite low at the time.
Times have quickly changed. In February 2022, CryptoPunk #5822 set a record for an 8,000 ETH sale. That amounted to $23.7 million at the time of the transaction – beating out the prior record of $11 million set in June 2021.
As an early stage player in the NFT space, collectible interest in this project will likely continue – even with increasingly complex digital art being made today.
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Axie Infinity is the largest of the NFT projects featured here when looking at sales. Axie Infinity is a non-fungible token based video game where players collect and mint NFTs of Axies – a form of digital pets. The game uses a play-to-earn (P2E) model, where playing time on the platform generates rewards such as cryptocurrency.
Most NFT projects use the Ethereum network to secure ownership. However, Axie Infinity uses an Ethereum sidechain known as the Ronin Network that allows users to buy, sell and trade NFTs. The price to mint an Axie NFT initially started at around $400, but has since dropped substantially to around $20 amid a broader decline in cryptocurrencies.
The size of Axie Infinity's network, Ronin, and its use of the USD Coin (USDC) – a stablecoin that is pegged to the U.S. dollar on a 1:1 basis – has made it a top target for hackers. Just in March, the network was compromised and hackers were able to steal $625 million of the cryptocurrency. However, the NFTs remained safe.
Given the low cost of these NFTs and the ability to generate them through gaming, this project will likely continue to lead on sales for some time. However, while Axie Infinity is still considered a digital collectible, those looking at NFTs as an investment may not realize substantial returns from the game.
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