Three letters sum up the overall state of the cryptocurrency market: U-G-H. Some are using the phrase "crypto winter" to describe the dark cloud lingering over many cryptocurrencies.

The days when you could buy nearly any digital token and watch it skyrocket are over. What's the best cryptocurrency to invest in right now?

Thinking short-term

It's much easier to answer that question if we focus only on the short term. Not every cryptocurrency is sinking like a brick. One type of crypto has actually held up quite well. I'm referring, of course, to stablecoins.

Since stablecoins attempt to peg their value to an underlying asset, they tend to be much less volatile than other cryptocurrencies. It's possible for stablecoins to lose their pegs (as in the TerraUSD and Terra fiasco). However, several of the top stablecoins haven't experienced that level of drama.

For example, the price of Tether (USDT 0.01%) has barely budged over the last 12 months. Tether ranks as the biggest stablecoin based on market cap. 

Likewise, the second-largest stablecoin -- USD Coin (USDC -0.02%) -- has moved by no more than a fraction of $0.01 over the past year. Both Tether and USD Coin are pegged to the U.S. dollar.

To make money by investing in stablecoins, though, you'll need to stake your coins. The best rates I've seen recently for staking Tether and USD Coin are around 12%. That's not a jaw-dropping return, but it's a lot better than the losses that many cryptocurrencies have delivered this year.

Thinking long-term

If you prefer to think long-term, there are different factors to consider. The current sell-off could present a great opportunity to buy cryptocurrencies that are likely to thrive over the next decade and beyond.

Bitcoin (BTC 1.04%) currently ranks as the most popular cryptocurrency. Its market cap of close to $400 billion is much larger than any other digital coin. Many would argue that Bitcoin is the most likely crypto winner over the long run.

However, Ethereum (ETH 0.49%) offers some clear advantages over Bitcoin. Its blockchain is widely used. More than 40 of the biggest cryptocurrencies by market cap are built atop the Ethereum platform.

On the other hand, there's a long list of smaller digital tokens that are trying to topple Bitcoin and Ethereum. Several of them have faster blockchains, greater capacity, and lower transaction fees.

The best answer

Probably the best answer to which is the best cryptocurrency to buy right now is... it depends. More specifically, it depends on your investing style.

If you're averse to risk, you'll be better off avoiding cryptocurrencies altogether. It's possible that we haven't seen the worst yet. Cryptocurrencies could sink even more and take years to recover. Maybe they'll never fully recover. Staking stablecoins could very well be a better alternative to buying other cryptocurrencies. However, there are still some risks involved with this option. 

If you're more aggressive but still uncomfortable with seeing your investments drop over the short term, buying and staking a stablecoin is probably more up your alley. My pick in this scenario is USD Coin because of its stability and transparency about underlying reserves.

But if you don't mind temporary losses and remain bullish about the long-term future of cryptocurrency, I think that Ethereum could be your best bet. Yes, some rivals could gain traction over the coming years. However, my view is that Ethereum will maintain its leadership with the forthcoming merge of the Ethereum mainnet with the proof-of-stake Beacon chain and subsequent upgrades.