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 a formidable woman named Chiyoko.
Under his control, the Colonel had a number of psychic children, each one identified by a number tattooed 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 friend, now his greatest enemy. Tetsuo was crippled by a laser blast from the military satellite SOL, which the Colonel controlled, and has used cybernetics and telekinesis to fabricate for himself a prosthetic left arm.
Most powerful of all the children is Number 28--Akira--a docile and enigmatic boy who was placed in cryogenic sleep almost forty years ago, when, with a mental blast, he started the Third World War. He was recently reawakened by the jealous and ambitious Tetsuo, and shortly thereafter, he responded to emotional trauma by again devastating the reconstructed city of Neo-Tokyo. Now Japan 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 to develop psychic abilities in some of their subjects. Most faithful among their numerous followers is Tetsuo's aide who is 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, but all of them except Lieutenant Yamada--who takes temporary shelter with Ryu--are killed. Ryu wants to join 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 wounded, living in hiding with one of his scientists, determined to kill Tetsuo to atone for what he has brought about. He believes Tetsuo could become another Akira. However, military forces outside Neo-Tokyo are trying by computer to wrestle control of SOL from him. At the same time, Tetsuo, acting upon advice from Lady Miyako, is trying to master his own weaknesses.
Aboard an American naval vessel, an international conclave of scientists studying the Akira phenomenon--which they've code-named Juvenile A--are aghast to learn that, despite their recommendations, the world's armies have amassed an Akira Assassination Corps and are even more upset by the knowledge that the young and dedicated soldiers are sure to be slaughtered by the inconceivable might of their enemy. The admiral commanding the ship scoffs when the scientists tell him that Tetsuo has teleported aboard to taunt his "fan club", refusing to be convinced even by the telekinetic havoc, death and injury the boy left in his wake. One of the scientists--Stanley Simmons--leaves the ship without authorization, hoping desperately to implant a secret plan.
Meanwhile, Lady Miyako, Masaru and Kiyoko try to convince Kay to join them in the battle against Tetsuo. Even though Kay lacks native psychic abilities, she is a powerful medium through whom others could project their powers and strike as one. Lady Miyako explains that Akira's personality has been destroyed by his power, leaving him in a passive vessel, and that when Tetsuo's character is likewise eroded, he too will be beyond control. Kay considers Tetsuo's most recent action--destroying part of the moon and setting off geological cataclysms on earth merely to impress his and Akira's followers--and she agrees to be purified and join the others. Kaneda, who's teamed up with Kai and Joker--a friend and rival from his gang days--is outraged to learn of the risk Miyako has talked Kay into taking. He vows to kill Tetsuo himself rather than let her face such danger. Then, at long last, he kisses Kay and promises her that they'll spend the night together when they next meet. Kaneda, Kai and Joker formulate a strategy involving most of their men, as well as such state-of-the-art weapons as they've salvaged, including laser rifles, flying platforms, and one caretaker robot.
Following his huge expenditure of power, Tetsuo begins to lose control, and his artificial arm assumes a grossly mutated form. He runs amok, killing any of his followers who comes too close, until Kaori is able to calm him. After a brief encounter with the Colonel, Tetsuo again teleports to the ship, where Karma Tangi--a wise and sensitive monk--warns him that his power has grown beyond what his body can contain and that it is now trying to absorb its very surroundings. Fearing for his ship, the admiral shoots the boy through the heart...and Tetsuo departs laughing madly.
Things are not what they seem.
A massive warship transforms into an almost living thing, swallowing its crew and turning its terrible weapons of destruction against itself. A young boy named Tetsuo is horribly remade in flesh and mind by a power older than time. And an innocent girl named Kay plays host to a triumverate of beings within her, wise and awesome forces that are the only hope of stopping the madness.
Things are not what they seem in Neo-Tokyo... as reality itself hangs by a thread...
The madness that passes for day-to-day in the Great Tokyo Empire has begun to take its toll on all... bringing each that much closer to the breaking point...