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, make an unauthorized motorcycle run to check out the old site. They encounter a terrified child, known only as Number 26, possessing 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 following the incident. They learn that the "police" they met following the accident were actually 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 attempts, unsuccessfully, to pick up a newcomer ,Kay . In fact, she and her companion, Ryu, are part of an underground resistance group dedicated to learning what is happening in the old city and putting a stop to it.
Trouble ensues and both delinquents and resistance fighters again encounter Number 26. Again, he uses his powers to catastrophic effect. Both groups are scattered, but Ryu and 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. A firefight results.
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. The paranormal boy becomes increasingly ill, exhibiting symptoms of drug withdrawal. Kaneda returns the favor he owes the resistance fighters by stealing a truck and heading back to save Ryu and Number 26 .
That is when the ominous Colonel in charge of the entire covert operation appears with a 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 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 threaten Takashi, and Takashi responds to the stress this causes by telekinetic upheavals. 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 all right. However, during Tetsuo's treatment, the Colonel has learned the delinquent shows great psychic potential and would be a valuable asset.
Kaneda has a girl friend in the school infirmary analyze the drug intended for Takashi. It is similar in substance to stuff Kaneda 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.
One of the Clowns corners Tetsuo. Kaneda and his group come to the rescue. Tetsuo astonishes them, first by displaying uncharacteristic bloodthirstiness, and then by challenging Kaneda's authority.
Determined not to let a potential human weapon escape him, the Colonel goes to the school the next day. Collecting Tetsuo there, he also encounters Kaneda and almost captures him.
Under treatments of the Colonel's chief medical officer, Tetsuo begins to exhibit powerful psychic abilities...and to undergo great pain.
Meanwhile, Kaneda, trying to spy on the Colonel and learn what is happening to Tetsuo, re-encounters the members of the resistance, and is brought back to their headquarters. He is questioned by Ryu about the stolen drug. When he denies knowledge of it, Kaneda is put under Kay's personal surveillance...to her immense dismay.
Kiyoko, another of the psychic children under the Colonel's control, warns her master that Akira--who is asleep and expected to remain so for some time--will awaken soon. The Colonel views this as disastrous. Meanwhile, at the resistance hideout, Kaneda encounters a ghost-like apparition of himself in flames, shouting a name...Akira.
The Colonel's spies learn where the resistance is centered, and soldiers enter the hideout in force, scattering the rebels. Kaneda and Kay escape together. They flee to Harukiya, where the bartender agrees to shelter them.
Overwhelmed by pain, and by the burgeoning powers within him, Tetsuo breaks out of the Colonel's installation, leaving death in his wake.
Finally, he is cornered alone in the street...by the Clown gang.
A new force moves through the post World War III city of Neo-Tokyo. A force dubbed Number 41 by the secret government agency monitoring his moves. Once he was a teenage motorcycle gang member named Tetsuo, but that was before a strange accident put him in the hands of the government and left him...changed. A power is growing in Tetsuo. It allows him to kill with a glance. Violently. Explosively. But the power also corrupts. It turns him against his best friend, Kaneda. It drives him to seek out the murderous Clown cycle gang, bitter rivals of his former friends. Yet for all his emerging power, Tetsuo is still only a shadow of something greater to come, a sleeping giant not yet awakened...AKIRA.