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. 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 is 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.
Tetsuo--who following his accident was taken to a hospital by soldiers serving the Colonel--is taken from school by the Colonel after his recovery. Under the treatments of the Colonel's chief medical officer, Tetsuo exhibits powerful psychic abilities...and undergoes great pain. Finally, Tetsuo breaks out of the Colonel's installation, using his burgeoning powers to slaughter all who oppose him.
Meanwhile, Kaneda, trying to 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. 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. A spy from the Colonel's organization learns of their hideout, but he is caught and left for dead by a resitance fighter.
Kiyoko, another of the psychic children under the Colonel's control, announces that Akira--who is asleep, and expected to remain so for some time--is going to awaken in the near future.
At Harukiya, Yamagata and Kaneda's other friends tell of Tetsuo's new powers and of his bloodthirstiness. Kaneda and Yamagata lead the local street gangs on a massive all-out attack to stop Tetsuo. Then the Colonel, alerted by his informant, arrives at Harukiya, and forces the bartender to tell him where the fugitives have gone.
Yamagata and his team corner Tetsuo in a warehouse. Most of the gang dies, and Kaneda reaches the scene in time to see Tetsuo brutally kill Yamagata. Enraged, Kaneda shoots Tetsuo...who survives.
As the Colonel arrives, Tetsuo grabs and swallows the drug Kaneda had hidden, apparently dying of an overdose. A few minutes later, the terrible delinquent recovers, more powerful than ever, and the elated Colonel rechristens him Number 41.
Back at the Colonel's installation, Tetsuo's body shrugs off the effects of his wounds...and his mind continues its descent into madness and evil. Eavesdropping on the Colonel and his doctor, he is intrigued to learn that he is not unique, and that other paranormals possess talents he lacks.
Ryu, working undercover at a construction site next to the Colonel's base, meets with Nezu, who publically leads the governmental opposition party but secretly is a resistance leader as well, and the pair share new evidence on the scale of the Akira project. Nezu, in turn, consults Lady Miyako, the head of a powerful religious cult of which Nezu is a member. Lady Miyako, who bears the Number 19 on her hand marking her as one of the Colonel's series, warns of impending catastrophe which may be linked to Akira.
Kiyoko, Takashi, and Masaru fear Tetsuo's power and discuss plans to hinder him. Then Kay--who, like Kaneda-- has been brought to the installation under guard, escapes, displaying a variety of psychic powers, including telekinesis and teleportation. She attacks Tetsuo, almost killing him, and helps Kaneda to shake off his guards, acting like a sleepwalker the whole time. As guards close in on the escapees, Tetsuo quizzes the doctor about Akira, and learns that his chief rival is trapped in cryogenic sleep.
Chaos reigns in the secret government project run by the Colonel in 21st Century Neo- Tokyo. Two prisoners--Kay, young agent of the underground resistance, and Kaneda, vengeance driven leader of a teenage motorcycle gang--are on the loose in his skyscraper headquarters. His special team of mutant children are plotting on their own against Tetsuo, delinquent become psychic-powered killer. Once the Colonel's hope as a check against the greatest threat of all--the sleeping paranormal giant, AKIRA--Tetsuo is proving wild and uncontrollable, bent on a test of psychic might with the children arrayed against him. As this showdown begins, Kaneda and Kay will be wild cards...perhaps in destroying Tetsuo, perhaps in driving him to even greater acts of violence.