Two of the hottest areas over the past year have been cryptocurrencies and the metaverse. Investors have flocked to both in hopes of making lots of money. 

But these two areas aren't mutually exclusive. You can invest in cryptocurrencies and the metaverse at the same time with the aptly named metaverse cryptocurrencies.

Not every digital token with a tie to the metaverse is worthy of consideration, though. Here are the three top metaverse cryptocurrencies based on market cap -- and whether or not they're smart picks to buy right now.

A person holding a light bulb against a clear rectangular panel with METAVERSE printed on it.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Decentraland

Decentraland (MANA 2.58%) ranks as the biggest metaverse cryptocurrency right now, with a market cap of $5.6 billion. Even with a significant pullback since December, its MANA digital token has more than doubled over the past 12 months.

In addition to being the biggest metaverse cryptocurrency, Decentraland is also the first fully decentralized virtual world. Its Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) owns the key smart contracts that drive the Decentraland metaverse, notably including the LAND contract that allows users to buy and sell virtual land.

Users can monetize their LAND by developing interactive games, allowing advertising, and more. Decentraland's native MANA token is the currency used throughout the metaverse. MANA can, of course, be used to buy LAND, but also to purchase avatars, names, wearables, and other items in the Decentraland marketplace.

2. The Sandbox

The Sandbox (SAND 3.11%) doesn't trail too far behind Decentraland. The No. 2 metaverse cryptocurrency currently has a market cap of $4.5 billion. But The Sandbox has been a much bigger winner than Decentraland over the past 12 months, with its native SAND token soaring close to 1,670%.

Like Decentraland, The Sandbox is a virtual world that uses a DAO model. Also like Decentraland, it's built on the Ethereum blockchain. This blockchain supports smart contracts for purchasing virtual land and other assets. 

But there are some differences between these two metaverses. The most obvious one is that The Sandbox uses the SAND digital token as its native currency. The Sandbox is also migrating to Polygon's layer-2 solution, which will lower transaction fees and increase processing speeds. 

3. Axie Infinity

Axie Infinity (AXS) comes in third among metaverse cryptocurrencies with a market cap of $3.7 billion. Its AXS token has been the best performer of the top three over the past 12 months with a gain of more than 2,840%.

There are several similarities between Axie Infinity and the two biggest crypto metaverses. Axie Infinity is built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. Like Decentraland and The Sandbox, Axie Infinity has its own native token (in this case, AXS) used as a currency in its virtual world.

However, Axie Infinity is more gaming-focused than its two top rivals. Players buy creatures known as "Axies" that they can engage in battle, breed, and sell. They can even build kingdoms for their Axies.

Are they buys?

All three of these metaverse cryptocurrencies have made early investors plenty of money so far. But are they still buys? I think it's a definite maybe.

How much these digital tokens rise depends on how well their metaverses attract users going forward. Decentraland and The Sandbox appear to be gaining traction the most with businesses. It's encouraging when major corporations such as Adidas and Samsung purchase virtual land in these metaverse platforms. This momentum could continue and even pick up steam over the next few years.

On the other hand, there's no guarantee that Decentraland, The Sandbox, or Axie Infinity will emerge as top players in the metaverse over the long run. Multiple tech giants are hoping to dominate the metaverse. If their efforts are successful, the current metaverse crypto leaders could become also-rans.

Investors willing to take on significant risk might want to consider buying small positions in all three of these cryptocurrencies. But risk-averse investors are better off staying away.