My Buckmark is one of my very favorite guns. It is fun to shoot, very reliable, and dead-on accurate. I also have a Phoenix HP22, which is a way more capable gun than a lot of people give credit. I also have a couple old H&R revolvers that shoot well and can usually be had for around $150.
I have several semi auto .22 pistols and will give my preferences as well as those of my grandchildren who shoot the often.
I am listing them from top to bottom as I see them.
l. RIA full size 1911 frame with .22 slide and barrel. I have owned and shot govt Colts for over50 years and this just fits in my hand. The kids like it but not their favorite. It is the heaviest of my .22 pistols
2. Ruger II in the 22/45 govt model. I love the feel of this and it is a solid shooter. I discount those who say they are a pain to disassemble--follow instructions a few times and it comes natural. I like the grip angle on this better than the Mark versions of the Ruger. I have upgraded the sights on one of these fine pistol, but the factory sights are fine.
3. Browning Buckmark. This is the grandchildrens gun of choice. I have a couple and one with custom target wood grips is very comfortable to shoot. This is a very easy pistol to break down--need a screwdriver and a couple minutes. Also this has very good sights.
4. Ruger Mark I--great pistol but does not fit my hands as well as the 22/45. It is a foolproof shooter and has thousands of rounds down the pipe and never had a FTF, FTE that I can remember. Did have to throw away a magazine that we could not get tuned up, but it is 25+ years old.
I don't know what you carry or shoot regularly, but getting a frame and controls similiar to your EDC is always a good Idea. I love the SIGs to shoot and am considering buying the SIG 226 in the 22 LR that they offer now. You can order an upper (barrel, slide and recoil spring with magazine) kit direct from SIG to make it a 9mm or whatever you like to shoot.
SIg also offers a german copy of their full size in .22 I think is made by GSG and it is a shooter. One of the guys that shoots at my range has one and really enjoys it.
Also if you shoot your EDC pistol you can get a conversion kit for many of these even if they cost as much as a dedicated shooter. Lots of choices and if you were close, you could shoot several and give it a try. Ask your shooting friends what they own and try them out. It's the Ford, Chevy, Caddy thing--buy what you like and shoot it a lot.
BTW when you get a .22 pistol, you will need a revolver. My BIL once asked me how many guns does a man really need, and my reply was "Just one more".
In the above post I left out that I have a S&W 22 A and it performs fine, just does not fit my hands and feel as "right" as some of the ones rated 1-4 above. But for it's cost it is still a shooter
Ruger Mark III.
Have a stainless Target model and recently purchased a 22/45 Lite that is incredible. Additional purchases will be SP101, SR22, Buckmark.
browning is my choice always
Thank you for posting this as I am myself in the market for a .22 plinker. Everything suggested is pretty much where my research has taken me, but I'll throw out a few more.
Beretta Neos U22 - Some people love it, the grip is smaller, and it has a carbine conversion kit if that floats your boat and its much cheaper than the others, though aftermarket is kind of barren.
Chiappa M9-22. I had never knew they made this model, but if you have a Beretta, it's uncanny how good the controls are.
My choice: M&P22. My reasoning for that is two-fold. one, as others have mentioned is that it's a good option to compare to your EDC. Since I have an M&P pistol, the controls are relatively similar, though the dinner-plate sized ambi-safety is a nuisance. The biggest thing for me is that the M&P22 comes with a threaded barrell, so that means if I want to get a suppressor for it, I don't need to change out the whole barrel, rather just get an adapter and the can itself.
We'll see if they have any in stock today when I go out. Good luck!