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.
In the old city, a band of teenaged delinquents led by Kaneda encounter Number 26--a terrified child possessing extraordinary telekinetic abilities. During the encounter, the paranormal boy gravely injures Tetsuo, one of Kaneda's close friends, then mysteriously vanishes. As a result, Kaneda and Tetsuo become entangled in a power struggle between a mysterious military and scientific organization led by a man known only as the Colonel, and an underground resistance group, bent on putting a stop to the Colonel's activities.
Among the resistance, Kaneda meets Kay--a girl he alternately maddens and tries to seduce-Kay's "brother", Ryu, and Ryu's closest friend and subordinate, a man who proves his value to the group when he detects and very nearly kills a spy from the Colonel's organization. Ryu's superiors in the resistance include Nezu--who publicly leads the party that opposes the government-and a powerful religious leader with strong precognitive gifts--Lady Miyako.
The Colonel already has a number of children under his control, each one possessing a distinct set of psychic talents and identified by a number marked on the hand. (Lady Miyako was, at one time, Number 19 in this series.) The most powerful of the children is the mental giant--Akira. Because of his immense psychic abilities, Akira has been suspended in cryogenic sleep beneath the earth's surface for almost four decades.
The Colonel's chief medical advisor, called Doctor, detecting tremendous telepathic potential in the delinquent Tetsuo, subjects him to painful electronic and chemical experiments. These experiments awaken Tetsuo's talents, and the Colonel redubs the boy Number 41. Unfortunately, as his powers grow, a monstrous side of Tetsuo's nature also appears. Able to shrug off the most serious injuries, Tetsuo goes on a killing spree, eventually murdering one of his and Kaneda's closest friends--Yamagata--and attacking Kaneda, who, along with Kay, is subsequently captured by the Colonel and taken to his installation.
Tetsuo learns of Akira's existence and is unable to tolerate the notion that the sleeping child may be more powerful than he is, so he forces the Doctor to tell him where his rival lies. Determined to seek him out, Tetsuo brutally attacks the Colonel who tries to restrain him. Kiyoko, Masaru, and Takashi--the psychic children, who, like Lady Miyako fear Akira's power and worry about the disaster Tetsuo may unleash-use their talents to help Kaneda and Kay escape from their cells. Armed with a laser, Kaneda routs Tetsuo, who flees the installation and sets out for where Akira sleeps. Before the Colonel recovers, Kaneda and Kay are also able to escape "aided" by the same spy Ryu's lieutenant previously left for dead. Although they don't trust the man, Kaneda and Kay bring him along as they, too, head for the Olympic site. Ryu and his lieutenant are working undercover at the Olympic Stadium, posing as soldiers.
Determined to prevent Tetsuo from unleashing a disaster, the Colonel alerts his troops and scientists. As everyone finally reaches the site, fighting breaks out.
Beneath the half finished Olympic Stadium, AKIRA sleeps, peaceful and oblivious, while above him rages a battle to see who will control his future. Tetsuo, a powerful paranormal, seeks to awaken Akira, to see just who this extraordinary being is. Fearful of the dire consequences of waking Akira, Kiyoko, a paranormal herself, has come to the aid of Kay, a member of the Resistance, by endowing Kay temporarily with psychic powers. Kay now races through the sewers of Neo-Tokyo with Kaneda, a "friend" of Tetsuo, hoping they will reach the Stadium first...While above ground, the Colonel, who is charged with controlling all paranormals, has marshalled the elite forces of the Army to stop Tetsuo-no matter what the cost.