2030. The world hovers on the brink of World War IV. Kaneda, one-time leader of a delinquent gang, is caught up in the aftermath of a power struggle between a Japanese military research organization--led by a man known only as the Colonel--and a resistance group whose members include Kay, Ryu, and Chiyoko.
The Colonel had a number of psychic children under his control. Each is identified by a number marked on the hand. Among them were Kiyoko and Masaru--Numbers 25 and 27--and the blind Lady Miyako--Number 19--who once led the resistance and now heads a great religious cult. Number 41 is Tetsuo, once Kaneda's close friend, but now his greatest enemy. Tetsuo lost his arm to a laser blast from the military satellite SOL and has used telekinesis to fabricate for himself a prosthetic left arm.
Most powerful of all the children is Number 28--Akira--a quiet boy who was placed in cryogenic sleep forty years ago, when he started the third world war with a mental blast. He was recently reawakened by the jealous and ambitious Tetsuo. Shortly thereafter, he responded to an emotional trauma by again devastating the re-created city of Neo-Tokyo. Japan now exists in a state of emergency with the forces of the army and the resistance scattered, the military's formidable "caretaker robots" patrolling the streets, and new powers and allegiances arising within.
In the western part of Neo-Tokyo, the Great Tokyo Empire is formed--a monarchy with Akira on the throne 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 to defend their land. To increase the empire's power, Tetsuo uses drugs and training to develop psychic abilities in certain of their subjects. Among their numerous followers is a dapper assistant determined at all costs to destroy Lady Miyako, who offers sanctuary to any who come to her eastern shrine.
The Empire is infiltrated by teams of spies from the outside world. All of the spies except Lieutenant Yamada--who takes temporary shelter with Ryu--are killed. Ryu wants to join with and help Yamada, but soon after, Tetsuo meets the pair and reveals that Yamada has come to kill Akira. The spy decides to separate from his persistant would-be ally and go his own way.
The Colonel is determined to kill Tetsuo to atone for bringing about what he believes could become another Akira. At this same time, Tetsuo is trying to master his own weaknesses and his powers, so that he might control Akira's awesome might. Meanwhile, Lady Miyako and her psychically gifted monks are caring for Masaru and Kiyoko, who are sick with withdrawal from the drug which augments and channels mental powers. They await the return of Kaneda and his friend Kay and Chiyoko--both of whom were wounded in battle with Tetsuo's followers. Lady Miyako is particularly concerned about Kay, because although Kay lacks native telepathic abilities, the girl is a powerful medium for the talents of others.
Aboard an American naval vessel, an international conclave of scientists assembles. They pool their knowledge of the Akira project, code-named Juvenile A. Their data indicates that the effect of Akira's power is like that of the Big Bang and that the most recent blast (which was one of Tetsuo's) lacked the scope and dimension of the ones Akira caused.
The scientists are aghast when they learn that the world's armies have amassed an Akira Assassination Corps. They are even more upset by the knowledge that the soldiers are sure to be slaughtered by the inconceivable might of their enemy. Almost as if in confirmation of this, Tetsuo decides to pay a visit to his "fan club." During a flight exercise, the boy casually destroys a plane, killing the pilot. Then he taunts the scientists of Juvenile A for their limited ideas and aspirations before disappearing in a burst of destructive telekinetic energy.
The Great Tokyo Empire under Emperor Akira plans a grand convocation, a festive gala to be attended by one and all--for there's plenty to celebrate in Neo-Tokyo this day. Starvation in the ruins. The winds of war between the forces of the Emperor and Lady Miyako. The threat of a super power attack with bio-chemical weapons. And Tetsuo toying with the very fabric of the cosmos itself. Rejoice, indeed...for tomorrow may be even worse...