There are a number of beautiful stock "fonts" on Adobe Stock such as the ones below:
But these "fonts" (available as .ai files) are just a collection of letters, each of which is a path in Adobe Illustrator -- not an actual font that can be used to create freeform text.
My question is: How are these "fonts" intended to be used? Are designers really supposed to typeset them by hand, letter by letter? I'm new to Illustrator and am hoping there's a better way to do this. If not, any links to tutorials on manual typesetting would be much appreciated.
You need to do it by hand. I do digital scrapbooking. It's kind of like having a sheet of sticker letters and placing them one at a time. Use smart guides and the alignment tools to get them spaced and aligned, then you can group them as words if you need to warp or something else. They are meant for headlines, single words, etc.