To understand structural and chemical properties of metal–graphene composites, it is crucial to unveil the chemical bonding along the interface. We provide direct experimental evidence of atomic bonding between typical metal nano structures and graphene, agreeing well with density functional theory studies. Single Cr atoms are located in the valleys of a zigzag edge, and few-atom ensembles preferentially form atomic chains by self-assembly. Low migration barriers lead to rich dynamics of metal atoms and clusters under electron irradiation. We demonstrate no electron-instigated interaction between Cr clusters and pristine graphene, though Cr has been reported to be highly reactive to graphene. The metal-mediated etching is a dynamic effect between metal clusters and pre-existing defects. The resolved atomic configurations of typical nano metal structures on graphene offer insight into modeling and simulations on properties of metal-decorated graphene for both catalysis and future carbon-based electronics

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