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--was once among their ranks but now heads a great religious cult. Number 41 is Tetsuo, once Kaneda's friend, but now his greatest enemy. Tetsuo lost his left arm to a laser blast from the military satellite SOL, and has used cybernetics and telekinesis to fabricate for himself a prosthetic replacement.
Most powerful of all the children is Number 28--Akira--a docile and enigmatic boy who was placed in cryogenic sleep forty years ago after he inadvertently started the Third World War with a mental blast. He was recently reawakened by the jealous and ambitious Tetsuo. Shortly thereafter, he responded to emotional trauma by again devastating the reconstructed city of Neo-Tokyo. Japan now exists in a state of emergency. The forces of the army and the resistance scattered.
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 are Tetsuo's girlfriend, Kaori, and his dapper, ambitious assistant. Their headquarters are Neo-Tokyo's Olympic Stadium. To the East, Lady Miyako welcomes refugees, including Kay and Chiyoko, to her shrine. She is aided by Kiyoko, Masaru and a number of loyal, psychically gifted monks.
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, until he learns that the spy plans to assassinate Akira, even if it means taking innocent lives. After that he keeps an eye on Yamada, trying to protect both the invader and the people of Neo-Tokyo. Yamada and his men meet one of Tetsuo's trained psychics--the Hozuki man. To their dismay, they find that he can withstand gunfire...and kill without touching.
The wounded Colonel is living in hiding with one of his scientists. He is determined to kill Tetsuo, who he believes could become another Akira. However, military forces outside Neo-Tokyo are trying by computer to wrestle control of SOL from him.
Aboard an American naval vessel, an international conclave of scientists studying the Akira phenomenon--which they have codenamed Juvenile A. They are aghast to learn that the world's armies have amassed an Akira Assassination Corps, despite their recommendations. They are even more upset by the knowledge that the young, dedicated soldiers are sure to be slaughtered by the inconceivable might of their enemy. 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, because although Kay lacks native psychic abilities, she is a powerful medium, through whom the others could project their powers and strike as one. Lady Miyako explains that Akira's personality has been destroyed by his power, leaving him a passive vessel, and that when Tetsuo's character is likewise eroded, he too will be beyond control. Kay agrees, remembering that, on a whim, Tetsuo recently destroyed part of the moon and set off geological cataclysms.
Kaneda, who's teamed up with Kai and Joker--a former rival from his gang days--is outraged to learn of the risk Kay is 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 an attack 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. Together, they head for the Olympic Stadium.
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.
A pitched battle between Tetsuo and the Navy ensues. The ship's Admiral--who witnessed Tetsuo's encounter with Karma Tangi and the scientists--is the only fighting man capable of understanding their enemy's nature. Tetsuo seizes control of bombs and planes, using his attacker's weapons against them.
Kay, channeling the powers of Lady Miyako and the numbered children, attacks Tetsuo, distracting him. Then, before he can kill her, she teleports safely back to the shrine. Tetsuo, collapses in pain, overcome by his power's hunger.
Then, as Tetsuo's assistant broods about the future and potential ruin of all his schemes, Akira awakes.
Primal forces compete in Neo-Tokyo's Olympic stadium, raw genesis and ragged apocalypse vying for the devotion of a city's survivors and the attention of the entire world. Creation's champion is the anguished Tetsuo, flesh betraying his humanity to unnatural transformation and transcendence. Destruction's heroes range from the manic Kaneda and Kai, toy soldiers atop stolen war machines...to dire American troops, men fearful as boys attacking the mighty Akira...to the grim Colonel, unleashing heavenly power in a reckless attempt to reclaim his old world from the new one he's helped set loose.
Choose your side...as if there are any winners in this deadly game.