Twenty-thirty. The world hovers on the brink of World War IV. Kaneda, leader of a band of teenaged delinquents, leads his friends into a restricted area--the section of Neo-Tokyo known as the "old city"--where, thirty-eight years before, the first of the bombs fell.
As a result Kaneda and his friend Tetsuo become entangled in a power struggle between a mysterious military and scientific organization led by the Colonel and an underground resistance group bent on putting a stop to the Colonel's activities. Members of the resistance include Kay, Ryu, and a formidable woman named Chiyoko. Among their superiors is the blind Lady Miyako--a powerful religious leader with precognitive gifts.
The Colonel has a number of psychic children under his control. Takashi, Kiyoko, and Masaru are identified by numbers marked on their hands. Number 28 is Akira, so powerful that since the war he has been suspended in cryogenic sleep.
The Colonel's staff conducts experiments which awaken tremendous telepathic potential in Tetsuo, who is redubbed Number 41. Able to shrug off the most serious injuries, Tetsuo goes on a killing spree, even attacking Kaneda. Followed by Kay and Kaneda, Tetsuo seeks out Akira, whose powers he fears may rival his own. In hibernation, Akira's power responds to Tetsuo's psychic energy. When Tetsuo reaches Akira's resting place, the cryogenic chamber cracks from within and Akira--dazed and docile following his long sleep--emerges.
The Colonel summons the powerful SOL military satellite and orders that its laser cannon be fired at Tetsuo and Akira. The two are separated by the blasts. Akira is saved by Kay and Kaneda, but the laser strikes Tetsuo's left arm. Afterward, Neo-Tokyo is placed in a state of military emergency, with "caretaker robots" patrolling the streets and keeping order.
Akira and the resistance fighters are cornered by the Colonel's troops, but all seems well when Takashi fondly greets Akira. Then, Nezu, a former resistance leader who has betrayed his own side, arrives. He tries to kill Akira, but kills Takashi instead.
The trauma of Takashi's death galvanizes Akira. He fully awakens and unleashes a light blast powerful enough to devastate the entire city. Masaru and Kiyoko sweep most of the people in the area upward. Kaneda is last seen vanishing toward the sky. Afterwards, Lady Miyako opens her temple and offers shelter and comfort to those in need, gathering large groups of followers in the East.
Neo-Tokyo is completely cut off from the outside world. In the western part of the city the Great Tokyo Empire is formed--a monarchy with Akira as the figurehead and Tetsuo as his Prime Minister. Together the pair use their powers, healing the sick, wielding control of the faithful, and organizing their subjects into fighting units that destroy caretaker robots and conquer military and medical relief parties sent from the outside world. The Empire is eventually infiltrated by teams of spies sent from the outside.
Masaru and Kiyoko are sick with withdrawal from the drug which augments and channels mental powers, and when Kiyoko, whose powers are precognitive, tells Kay to find Number 19, Lady Miyako asks that Kay bring the other psychics to her when they are well.
Tetsuo's men kill most of the spies from the outside, but their leader, Lt. Yamada, escapes when Ryu leads him into the safety of an underground shelter. Yamada refuses to tell Ryu who has sent him. He does, however, reveal that Russia has conquered part of Japan, and that the Americans' fear of Akira makes the reluctant to get involved.
Tetsuo forces an orgy of sex and drugs on several young girls, only one of whom--Kaori--survives. Afterwards, Tetsuo looks into Akira's mind. He emerges a terrified wreck. When he recovers, he decides that Lady Miyako may be able to explain matters to him. Taking a dose of power-enhancing medication, Tetsuo teleports to the temple of the religious leader. Lady Miyako recounts to him the experiments decades earlier which created the psychic children and reveals that the Third World War was begun by a mental blast from Akira. She also warns Tetsuo that he alone can control Akira's near-inconceivable powers, but that he must first overcome his dependency on drugs. Disgusted and perplexed, Tetsuo returns to his stronghold. There he neglects his duties of state, concentrating instead on trying to kick the habit.
Kay and Chiyoko try to move Masaru and Kiyoko to Lady Miyako's temple, but are attacked by Tetsuo's followers, who escape with Kiyoko. Chiyoko rescues the girl, but is badly wounded. The two are brought to safety by the Colonel, who is living in isolation. Chiyoko, delirious, tells the Colonel to take the child to the temple, where he'll also find Masaru.
Ryu and Lt. Yamada watch the Empire from hiding and are startled by an encounter with Tetsuo, whose withdrawal causes his powers to surge erratically. Ryu is even more startled when Tetsuo blurts out what his telepathy has shown him--that Yamada has come to assassinate Akira.
Tetsuo's Lieutenant leads his army to Lady Miyako's temple, and they slaughter all in their path--monks, penitents and helpless refugees. They are, however, thwarted by the power of Lady Miyako's psychically gifted monks and defeated when Kay captures their leader. Lady Miyako refuses to permit the execution of their enemies. Tetsuo's men depart alive, bitterly swearing revenge. They return an hour later hungry for blood and victory.
Meanwhile, the Colonel has been wounded and nearly killed by soldiers of the Empire, but escapes alive. Shortly after Tetsuo returns to the shrine, maddened by the pain of withdrawal, the Colonel arrives and uses a remote control that enables him to fire a blast from the SOL satellite. Tetsuo unleashes a wave of devastating psychic power. During the mayhem, Kanedareappears, as if from nowhere.
Tetsuo takes another inner voyage, reliving both happy and painful episodes from his past, and seeing a vision of the double helix spiral that Akira constantly creates when he plays. Only Kaori is there to see Tetsuo return to the seat of the Great Tokyo Empire and bow down to his young lord. When their lieutenant returns, confesses his unauthorized attack on the shrine, and begs Tetsuo to help them overcome Miyako, Tetsuo refuses.
Aboard an American naval vessel, an international conclave of scientists assembles. They pool their knowledge of the Akira project, which they codename Juvenile A. Their data indicates that the effect of Akira's power is like that of the Big Bang--the force that created the universe--and that the most recent blast (Tetsuo's) lacked the scope and dimension of the earlier ones. They also theorize a link between the psychic blasts and the firing of SOL, over which the military is trying to regain control.
Kai leads Kaneda to a black market shop in the thieves' quarter of the city beyond Miyako's shrine. Leading the thieves is Joker, former leader of the Clown motorcycle gang, who were Kaneda's bitterest enemies. However, Kaneda, Joker and Kai agree to work together and avenge Tetsuo's crimes.
The Colonel, too, is after Tetsuo, blaming himself for the creation of what could turn out to be another Akira. Kay badgers him, hoping to make him reveal Chiyoko's whereabouts. The Colonel gives Kay a chance to join him, and the pair leave the shrine together. Lady Miyako is irate when she learns of this, and sends for Kaneda, imploring him to return with her "beloved daughter."
It begins with the sudden and mysterious quake that rocks Tokyo, the very Earth turning betrayer in a display of bullying might. It grows in a sweep of passion, sending Kay on a dangerous search for Chiyoko, with Kaneda in a no less harrowing pursuit of Kay. And it thunders out of control in the madness that drives a giant's blood soaked rampage.
They are all natural forces at play in the city this day, roiling and unpredictable powers battering the survivors from without and within. And like all natural forces, these are destined to run their course...and when they leave, who can say what will remain?