Non-fungible tokens (NFT) took off during the crypto bull run of 2021. In less than a year, blockchain-based digital assets went from being an obscure technicality to a maturing asset class.
NFTs including celebrity-favorite Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Beeple’s $69 million digital artwork sale brought much public attention to Ethereum, the blockchain that hosts the most high-profile NFTs. Many people now associate NFTs with Ethereum. After all, the network has processed more than $37 billion in NFT trades. No other chain comes close.
But Ethereum isn’t the only NFT blockchain. Any blockchain with smart-contract capabilities can support NFTs. Indeed, some have thriving NFT ecosystems, if not as developed as that of Ethereum.
“Top NFT blockchains” is a tough list to make precisely because the ranking frequently changes as the crypto industry continuously evolves. But some chains such as Ethereum and Solana have established firm positions in the NFT blockchain leaderboard. For others, the competition is more fierce.
Ethereum’s the king of all NFT chains. Its popularity even surprised Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s co-founder.
The technical development that made NFTs possible on Ethereum took place in 2015 when developers introduced the ERC-721, a non-fungible token standard. But it wasn’t until 2021 the NFT market on Ethereum truly blossomed. During the height of the NFT bull run, historical NFTs, which predate 2020, became highly prized.
Some of the most popular NFT projects such as CryptoPunks are native to Ethereum, which inspired a myriad of profile picture-style (PFP) NFT projects. Until late in 2022 most of the trading took place on OpenSea, the multichain marketplace that originally began on Ethereum. OpenSea facilitated billions of dollars in NFTs during the bull market.
Since pro-focused NFT marketplace Blur launched in October 2022, a huge shift in trading volume for ETH-based NFTs has occurred, with Blur’s trading volume overtaking OpenSea in February 2023 for the first time.
The popularity of NFTs on Ethereum has a downside. When the NFT trade becomes too hot the network gets clogged, sending the network’s transaction fees, known as gas, to sky-high levels. When Yuga Labs launched its “Otherdeeds” NFTs on Ethereum in 2022, gas fees cost investors over $100 million, with single transactions racking up $3,000 fees.
Solana has climbed to be the second-biggest NFT chain with a fledgling NFT ecosystem of its own.
Magic Eden, the chain’s biggest NFT marketplace, has recorded over $1 billion in trading volume so far. At one point in May 2022, the Solana-native marketplace even topped OpenSea’s NFT Ethereum trading volume. As of April 2022, OpenSea also began supporting Solana NFTs.
To buy and sell Solana NFTs, you need a Solana-compatible wallet such as Trust Wallet, Exodus Wallet or Phantom. The wallet needs to be topped up with enough SOL to pay any gas fees, which are generally lower than on Ethereum, generally only a fraction of a penny.
In the early days of Solana’s NFT ecosystem, the network was filled with Ethereum NFT knockoffs. These included Degen Apes, inspired by BAYC; and SolPenguins, inspired by Pudgy Penguins. As the network’s NFT ecosystem grew, original projects including Okay Bears and DeGods became household names for Solana – so much so that Okay Bears got copied onto Ethereum.
DeGods and Y00ts were so successful that another up-and-coming NFT blockchain, Polygon, paid them to migrate to their ecosystem in January 2023.
Polygon is what's known as a sidechain or scaling tool for Ethereum, and essentially was created to help reduce costs and the increase speed of transactions.
A relative newcomer to the NFT marketshare battle, Polygon has made impressive progress not only by bringing over high-profile projects like Y00ts and DeGods, but also by working with notable personalities for NFT launches, such as Former President Donald Trump’s first foray into NFTs.
Most notably, Polygon has driven adoption by working with many mainstream brands to launch their own NFT projects. To date, Polygon powers Starbucks’ Odyssey program, Reddit’s wildly popular digital avatars, Nike’s .swoosh platform, Meta Platforms’ integration of NFTs on Instagram and DraftKing’s NFT marketplace.
NFT marketplaces OpenSea, Magic Eden and most recently, Rarible support NFTs minted on Polygon. To date, Polygon has done over $700 million in trading volume, according to CryptoSlam.
Flow grew out of frustration with the NFT experience on Ethereum.
Cat-breeding NFT game CryptoKitties clogged Ethereum in 2017, prompting Dapper Labs, the company behind the project, to launch an alternative blockchain for games and consumer applications.
Today, Flow is best known for NBA Top Shot, the NFT collectibles of National Basketball Association highlights. It was one of most popular NFT projects until the profile-picture NFT trend took over as of mid-2021, which has led to Flow falling behind some of the other chains in terms of volume. As of writing, Flow has done over $1 billion in trading volume, but the activity has taken a dramatic downturn since its all-time high of over $244 million in February 2021. Two years later, Flow had just over $6 million in trading volume.
NBA Top Shot is just one among many big-IP projects on Flow. The chain is especially popular with top sports brands. Branded projects building on Flow include NFL ALL DAY, Ticketmaster, UFC Strike, Mattel, LaLiga Golazos, Seussibles (Dr. Seuss), Gaia, Genies and Aera by OneFootball.
Dapper Labs has a significant presence on the network and Dapper Wallet is the most popular wallet for Flow. Dapper’s centralized control of Flow and NBA Top Shots has recently led to some legal battles for the company, which is facing a class-action lawsuit involving its Top Shot NFTs.