We present a simple and facile synthesis of MnO octahedral nanocrystals and MnO@C core-shell composite nanoparticles. The synthesis is accomplished by a single-step direct pyrolysis of cetyltrimethylammonium permanganate in specially made Let-lock union cells. The products are characterized by HRSEM, HRTEM, Raman spectroscopy, and cyclic voltammetry (CV). The product consists mainly of octahedral MnO nanocrystals and MnO coated with carbon (MnO@C). The core-shell particles are observed only when the core size is smaller than 150 nm. The shape of the nanocrystals can be controlled by varying parameters such as reaction temperature and duration. As the temperature increases from 600 to 800°C, the octahedral MnO crystals observed are without any carbon shell. The effect of time and temperature on the octahedral MnO nanocrystal formation is described. The electrocatalytic activities of the products are studied for oxygen reduction reaction in aqueous basic medium and are compared with bulk MnO. The MnO nanocrystals and core-shell composites exhibit higher activity than that of bulk MnO.