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 the first of the bombs fell thirty-eight years before. There, 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 stopping to the Colonel's activities.
Among the resistance, Kaneda meets Kay--a girl he alternately maddens and tries to seduce--and Kay's "brother", Ryu. Ryu's superiors in the resistance include Nezu--who publically leads the political party that opposes the government--and a powerful religious leader with 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 their hand. (Lady Miyako was, at one time, Number 19 in the series.) One of the children, the mental giant Akira, is so powerful that since the war he has been buried beneath the earth's surface, suspended in cryogenic sleep.
The Colonel's chief medical advisor subjects Tetsuo to painful electronic and chemical experiments, awakening tremendous telepathic potential in the boy, who is redubbed Number 41. Unfortunately, as his powers appear, a monstrous side of Tetsuo's nature also surfaces. Able to shrug off the most serious injuries, Tetsuo goes on a killing spree. He eventually murders one of Kaneda's closest friends and attacks Kaneda, who, along with Kay, is taken to the Colonel's installation.
Unable to tolerate the notion that Akira may be more powerful than he is, Tetsuo leaves the Colonel's installation, determined to find his rival. The psychic children, like Lady Miyako, fear Akira's power and are worried about the disaster Tetsuo may unleash. They use their talents to help Kaneda and Kay escape, and the pair follow Tetsuo to the Olympic site below which Akira rests. There, they are almost reunited with Ryu, who is working undercover as a soldier.
Hoping to prevent a disaster, the Colonel alerts his troops and scientists. When everyone finally reaches the site, fighting breaks out.
Tetsuo easily repels attacks by wave after wave of soldiers armed with the most sophisticated weaponry. The scientists monitoring Akira's cryosleep discover that the temperature in Akira's chamber is beginning to rise. They deduce that even in hibernation, Akira's power is responding to Tetsuo's psychic energy.
Seeking a way out, Kay and Kaneda instead find their way to Akira's chamber. They watch from hiding as Tetsuo heads towards the chamber's entrance.
The Colonel orders his troops to fall back, and take cover. Intense cold from the growing cracks in Akira's chamber spills throughout the site, indicating that Akira is close to consciousness. Just as Tetsuo reaches Akira's resting place, the cryogenic chamber cracks from within and Akira emerges.
The paranormal giant is still dazed and weak with the aftereffects of his coma. He is unable to speak, shy of bright lights, and easily ordered about. Tetsuo and he begin to make their way to the surface. Kay and Kaneda, realizing that it is move or perish, also manage to reach the surface. Ryu is saved by soldiers who still believe he is one of them.
Terror sweeps the control room, as the Colonel tries desperately to prevent panicking. A scientist triggers the Code 7 Emergency Alarm. The civilian defense system kicks in and mayhem takes over on the streets. Neo-Tokyo holds its collective breath waiting for the bombs to fall again.
Terrified of what has been unleashed and determined to act before a greater catastrophe occurs, the Colonel summons the powerful SOL military satellite and orders that its laser cannon be fired at Tetsuo and Akira. The two boys are separated by the blasts. Akira is saved by Kay and Kaneda, but Tetsuo is less fortunate. The laser strikes his left arm.
Neo-Tokyo is placed in a state of military emergency following the disaster. Backing up the troops are "caretaker" robots who patrol the streets, dealing harshly with looters and restoring order. The Colonel--managing to conceal the truth about what has occurred, despite leaks to the media--plans to use the emergency as an excuse to hunt down and destroy the resistance once and for all.
Lady Miyako warns Nezu to hold his people in reserve. She then calls upon Sakaki, a young girl trained in techniques of infiltration, observation, and combat, and asks her to find Akira.
Kay and Kaneda take shelter with Chiyoko, a formidable woman in the resistance. Without Kaneda's knowledge, Kay meets with Nezu and agrees to turn the still-somnolent Akira over to him. When Ryu, still recovering from the frostbite he suffered at the Olympic site, also reports to Nezu, who chooses not to bring him up to date on the status of Akira. He also denies any knowledge of Kay's whereabouts.
Sakaki follows Kay back to Chiyoko's hideout, where she rouses Akira and leads him away. Kaneda is unable to stop Sakaki, but manages to alert Kay and Chiyoko.
Sakaki and Akira safely reach the street...and are cornered by caretaker robots.
There is a shrill sound that fills the air and beats against the soul. It is the sound of panic that grips the terrified citizens of Neo-Tokyo. It is the sound of the caretaker robots who carry out their orders to "protect" regardless of who they destroy. It is the sound of gunfire that rattles against the asphalt as the struggle for who will control Akira rages. It is the sound of double speak shreaking against all logic as government scrambles for high ground. It is sound and fury all for nothing against the power of Akira.