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, teenage delinquents, make an unauthorized motorcycle run into the old city 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.
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. 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. A firefight results.
Then the ominous Colonel in charge of the 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 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 threaten Takashi, who is exhibiting symptoms of drug withdrawal. Takashi responds with 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--who following his accident was taken to a hospital by soldiers--reappears in school, seemingly all right. However, during Tetsuo's treatment, the Colonel has learned the delinquent has great psychic potential.
Kaneda has a girlfriend in the school infirmary analyze the drug intended for Takashi. It is similar in substance to pills 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.
A member of the Clowns corners and begins to beatTetsuo. Kaneda and and the rest of his friends rescue Tetsuo, who astonishes them, first by displaying uncharacteristic bloodthirstiness, and then by challenging Kaneda's authority.
Determined not to let a new human weapon escape him, the Colonel goes to the school the next day to collect Tetsuo.
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. Questioned by Ryu, he denies all knowledge of the stolen drug.
Kiyoko, another of the psychic children under the Colonel's control, announces to her master the disastrous news that Akira--who is asleep and expected to remain so for some time--is going to awaken in the near future. Meanwhile, at the resistance hideout, Kaneda encounters a ghost-like apparition of himself, shouting Akira's name.
When the soldiers enter the resistance hideout in force, Kaneda and Kay manage together to escape to Harukiya, where the bartender agrees to shelter them.
Overwhelmed by pain, Tetsuo breaks out of the Colonel's installation, leaving death in his wake. When he is cornered alone in the street by the Clown Gang, Tetsuo uses his burgeoning powers to slaughter those who oppose him. He takes control of the gang, letting them live in return for the massive amounts of drugs required to stave off his agony.
Kaneda, anxious to recover the motorcycle he left behind when he "joined" the resistance, eludes Kay. He is nearly caught by soldiers in the underground tunnels. Kay gets to the lost bike first, and when Kaneda joins her, they are able to escape back to the safety of Harukiya.
Later, Ryu orders Kay to stay close to Kaneda and keep undercover. But these plans are complicated by the arrival at the bar of Yamagata and Kaneda's other friends. Kaneda is amazed at their tales of Tetsuo's new powers and bloodthirstiness.
Meanwhile, Ryu meets with Nezu, a resistance leader, and they share new evidence on the scale of the Akira project.
A spy from the Colonel's organization learns of the Harukiya hideout, but he is caught and left for dead by a resitance fighter.
Ignoring their status as fugitives, Kaneda eludes Kay and he and Yamagata lead all of the local street gangs on a massive all-out attack to stop Tetsuo and the Clowns.
Combat. In the warehouse district of post-World War III Neo-Tokyo, a showdown is taking place. Two young men, once friends, are engaged in a struggle to destroy each other. Kaneda, rebellious gang leader, had a magnum revolver plus his own wit and determination as weapons. Tetsuo, who recently took over the murderous Clown gang, has devastating psychic powers. He has already used them to kill, swiftly, explosively. Fueled by drugs and madness, he is ready to kill again. Hoping to save Kaneda in this unequal clash is Kay, agent of the underground resistance movement. Hoping to win over Tetsuo is the Colonel, head of a secret government project that needs the youth's paranormal power to control a much greater threat on the verge of awakening...AKIRA.