The year is 2030. The world is rebuilding from World War III. In Neo-Tokyo, plans are being made to hold the next Olympics in the "old city"--where, thirty-eight years before, the first of the bombs fell.
Kaneda and his friends--teenaged delinquents from the local vocational school--have made an unauthorized motorcycle run into the old city to check out the site and found far more than they expected. In an area said to be totally deserted, they encounter a strange, wizen-faced child known only as Number 26. He is terrified of something and is possessed of extraordinary telekinetic abilities. During the encounter, the paranormal boy gravely injures Tetsuo, one of Kaneda's close friends. Then, he vanishes.
Kaneda's gang find themselves in trouble with the authorities following the incident, and learn, to their surprise, that the "police" they encountered after the incident were not normal officers at all, but part of some secret concern. Moreover, Tetsuo, who they believed had been taken to a hospital, has disappeared.
The next night, at Harukiya, a tough local dive, Kaneda brazenly attempts to pick up Kay, a strange girl who catches his fancy. Kay, however, is not interested. In fact, she and her companion, Ryu, are part of an underground resistance organization, dedicated to learning what is happening in the old city and putting a stop to it.
During the mayhem that ensues, both the delinquents and resistance fighters again encounter Number 26, and again he uses his powers, to catastrophic effect. Both groups are scattered, but first Ryu and then Kaneda re-encounter Number 26 . Ryu attempts to reassure the paranormal boy, but Kaneda is anxious to punish him for injuring Tetsuo .
As they argue, the mysterious soldiers pursuing Number 26 reach the scene, armed and ready.
During the resulting firefight, Kaneda is separated from Ryu and Number 26, whom the soldiers are determined to recapture alive. Kay saves Kaneda's life, but Ryu and Number 26 are cornered, and Number 26 becomes increasingly ill, exhibiting all the symptoms of drug withdrawal. Kaneda returns the favor he owes the resistance fighters by stealing a truck and heading back into the heart of the melee to save Ryu and Number 26.
That is when the mysterious Colonel in charge of the entire covert operation puts in an appearance, bringing forward his secret weapon--Number 27 , a crippled paranormal child named Masaru.
Masaru astonishes the resistance fighters by addressing Number 26 as Takashi. Kay and Ryu had previously assumed that Number 26 was the Colonel's ultimate weapon--the as-yet unseen paranormal giant code-named Akira.
Kaneda provokes a crisis by pretending to be on the verge of killing Takashi, and Takashi responds to the stress this causes by telekinetic upheavals that virtually destroy the entire area. During the course of the cataclysm, Kaneda is again separated from the resistance fighters, but he manages to intercept and hide a pill meant for Takashi, who is recaptured by the Colonel's men.
The next day, Tetsuo reappears in school, seemingly little the worse for his experiences. However, during the course of his treatment, it has come to the attention of the Colonel and his followers that Tetsuo has great potential and would be a valuable asset to them.
Kaneda talks to his girlfriend--who works in the school infirmary and keeps his entire band of delinquents supplied with drugs--into analyzing the drug intended for Takashi, and she tells him that it is similar in substance to what he and his friends take, but unbelieveably concentrated and powerful.
Eager for action, Kaneda, Tetsuo and their gang head out for a rumble with their chief rivals--the vicious Clown gang.
Threads. Slowly intertwining. Coming together. Twisting tighter. The construction site for the coming Olympic games in post World War III Neo-Tokyo is rocked by an explosion, the work of anti-government rebels. In a secret government project controlled by the man known only as the Colonel, a wizen-faced child-woman awakens from a dream. Her dream is of someone called AKIRA. She dreams he will soon arise. On the streets, the young delinquent, Kaneda, object of government pursuit and rebel scrutiny, finds his authority over the motorcycle gang he leads suddenly challenged. The challenger is his friend, Tetsuo, who, following a mysterious highway accident, seems to be changing. Growing distant. Growing strange. Threads, Twisting, Tighter. Tighter until...something must break.