Animal studies have suggested that Mn might be associated with some components of the metabolic syndrome (MetS). A few epidemiological studies have assessed dietary Mn intake and its association with the risk of the MetS and its components among Chinese adults. In this study, we assessed daily dietary Mn intake and its relationship with MetS risk among Chinese adults in Zhejiang Province using data from the 5th Chinese National Nutrition and Health Survey (2010–2012). A total of 2111 adults were included. Dietary Mn intake was assessed using 3-d 24-h dietary recalls; health-related data were obtained by questionnaire surveys, physical examinations and laboratory assessments. The mean intake of Mn was 6·07 (sd 2·94) mg/d for men (n 998) and 5·13 (sd 2·65) mg/d for women (n 1113). Rice (>42 %) was the main food source of Mn. The prevalence of the MetS was 28·0 % (590/2111). Higher Mn intake was associated with a decreased risk of the MetS in men (Q4 v. Q1 OR 0·62; 95 % CI 0·42, 0·92; Ptrend=0·043) but an increased risk in women (Q4 v. Q1 OR 1·56; 95 % CI 1·02, 2·45; Ptrend=0·078). In addition, Mn intake was inversely associated with abdominal obesity (Ptrend=0·016) and hypertriacylglycerolaemia (Ptrend=0·029) in men, but positively associated with low HDL-cholesterol in both men (Ptrend=0·003) and women (Ptrend<0·001). Our results suggest that higher Mn intakes may be protective against the MetS in men. The inverse association between Mn intake and the MetS in women might be due to the increased risk for low HDL-cholesterol.