A method of making a catalyst with monolayer or sub-monolayer metal by controlling the wetting characteristics on the support surface and increasing the adhesion between the catalytic metal and an oxide layer. There are two methods that have been demonstrated by experiment and supported by theory. In the first method, which is useful for noble metals as well as others, a negatively-charged species is introduced to the surface of a support in sub-ML coverage. The layer-by-layer growth of metal deposited onto the oxide surface is promoted because the adhesion strength of the metal-oxide interface is increased. This method can also be used to achieve nanoislands of metal upon sub-ML deposition. The negatively-charged species can either be deposited onto the oxide surface or a compound can be deposited that dissociates on, or reacts with, the surface to form the negatively-charged species. The deposited metal adatoms can thereby bond laterally to the negatively-charged species as well as vertically to the oxide surface. Thus the negatively-charged species serve as anchors for the metal. In the second method, a chemical reaction that occurs when most metals are deposited on a fully hydroxylated oxide surface is used to create cationic metal species that bind strongly both to the substrate and to metallic metal atoms. These are incorporated into the top layer of the substrate and bind strongly both to the substrate and to metallic metal atoms. In this case, these oxidized metal atoms serve as the anchors. Here, as in the previous method, nanoislands of catalytic metal can be achieved to increase catalytic activity, or monolayers or bilayers of reactive metal can also be made.