The Monster Manual was released in 1977. It was the first book in TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was the first hardcover role playing book ever. Gary Gygax is credited as the sole author. The cover art, featuring a montage of creatures found within, was done by David C. Sutherland III. Interior artwork was done by David C. Sutherland III, David Trampier, Tom Wham, and Jean Wells.

The book gave a set of standardized statistics and descriptions for roughly 350 monsters. Many of the monsters came over from Gygax's D&D Greyhawk supplement as well as monsters found in legend and classic works of fantasy literature. Those from the Tolkien milieu were changed to protect the guilt. ents were "treents". Balrogs were Type VI demons. There were a number of new monsters as well.

TSR printed 50,000 copies in its first press run. It hoped to get the book out for the Christmas 1977 buying season but delays prevented it from being published until just before the new year.

The Monster Manual caused a small but ever growing rift between TSR's ruling triumvirate. Although many people assumed Gygax ran the show, the Blume brothers actually together controlled the majority of voting shares. Gygax wanted the Monster Manual to be "nearly indestructible", with textbook quality stitched binding. The Blumes, however, felt this added 10 cents to the cost of production and over ruled Gygax.

The sixth printing, released in 1981, had a small but significant change. It now credited the Monster Manual's authorship to both Gygax and Dave Arneson. This was a result of a famous lawsuit launched by Arneson to cement his claim to co-authorship of D&D. Both claim this lawsuit was eventually settled amicably. However, Gygax seems to this day to denigrate Arneson's contribution, believing Arneson merely added a few, you know, fluffy bits, like, oh, hit points.

The seventh printing, released in 1983 and in conjunction with the Monster Manual II, had updated cover art, featuring a red dragon in battle with a Pegasus.

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