2030. The world hovers on the brink of World War IV. Kaneda, onetime 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.
The Colonel had a number of psychic children under his control. Each one was identified by a number marked on the hand. Among them were Kiyoko and Masaru--Numbers 25 and 27. The blind Lady Miyako--Number 19--now heads a great religious cult. Number 41 is Tetsuo, who lost his left arm to a laser blast from the Colonel's military satellite SOL, and has used cybernetics and telekinesis to fabricate a prosthetic replacement. Tetsuo was Kaneda's dearest friend until he used his burgeoning powers to slaughter other members of their gang. Now, Kaneda is out for revenge.
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 after he started the Third World War with a mental blast. Akira was recently reawakened by Tetsuo, and again he devastated the reconstructed city of Neo-Tokyo. Japan now exists in a state of emergency. The force of the army and the resistance are scattered and the military's formidable caretaker robots patrol the streets.
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, organizing their subjects into fighting units to defend their land. Their headquarters is Neo-Tokyo's Olympic Stadium. To the east, Lady Miyako welcomes refugees to her shrine. In this, she is aided by Kiyoko, Masaru, and a number of loyal, psychic monks.
The Empire is infiltrated by teams of spies and commando units from the outside world, equipped with biochemical armaments which take a tremendous toll on Tetsuo's forces.
A fleet of foreign ships waits in Tokyo Bay, poised for action. Aboard an American naval vessel, an international conclave of scientists and one Tibetan monk study the Akira phenomenon--which they've codenamed Juvenile A. One of the scientists--Stanley Simmons--goes ashore to implement a secret plan. The research team is certain that using military force against Akira and Tetsuo can only lead to disaster. When the fleet sends fighter planes against Tetsuo, he uses a satellite to destroy their flagship, forcing the surviving military personnel and scientists to flee.
Meanwhile, Kay joins Miyako's forces in battle against Tetsuo. Kay is a powerful medium, through whom the others can project their powers as one.
Kaneda teams up with Kai and Joker-- a friend and rival from his gang days. Using salvaged weapons the trio lead a force of refugees and street rats to help Kay in her battle with Tetsuo. As they fight, Akira looks placidly on, drawn by the similarity of Tetsuo's powers to his own.
Tetsuo is griefstricken over the death of his gentle girlfriend, Kaori. He carries her body to the underground chamber where Akira once slept. Akira follows and joined by Kaneda, Joker, Chiyoko and Ryu. They prepare to fight in the bowels of the earth, where many of their comrades died.
Tetsuo's powers have grown erratic. His body frequently bloats and expands, engulfing those who venture too close. For a moment, it seems that contact with Kaneda has restored Tetsuo's humanity. Then, Tetsuo's power comes surging back, and Kaneda is drawn into his monstrous form, apparently consumed. As the battle rages, Akira becomes more alert. Terrified of what might occur if Akira awakens fully, Ryu panics. He draws a gun and shoots Akira, setting the boy's power free.
Seeking a new power source for himself, Tetsuo flies to Lady Miyako's shrine. Kay follows in hot pursuit. Lady Miyako instructs Kiyoko and Masaru to look after Akira, and the pair teleport away to help their friend. Lady Miyako, her followers, and Kay prepare to make a final stand against Tetsuo.
Kiyoko and Masaru meet Akira on the psychic plane, and are joined by the spirits of all the gifted children who have died before.
Telling Kay that the resolution depends on her, Lady Miyako heroically draws Tetsuo to herself and is killed. As she dies, she, too, is drawn to the spirit plane, where the souls of friends who have gone before await.
Kay is guided in battle by her late mentor's commands, and is able to break through to Tetsuo. His concentration interrupted, he is vulnerable, and is himself consumed by force from Akira's mind.
Trapped within Tetsuo's soul, Kaneda experiences a fractured, kaleidoscopic journey through his late friend's life and hardships. He shares with Tetsuo both the good memories and the bad.
Kaneda is contacted by Lady Miyako's spirit, and is stunned by what she tells him. Although Tetsuo and Akira were created in laboratories, they, along with all the catastrophe they bring, are a vital part of mankind's evolution.
There are secrets deep within the human soul that are at once divinely wonderful. . .and insanely terrifying. Journey with Kaneda, a young biker-turned-warrior, as he plumbs the depths of mystery in Neo-Tokyo. Young children are coddled and nurtured before being fed to experiments that will open their minds to the power of the cosmos. A young boy named Tetsuo stands alone on an inner-city playground, searching for a friend, wary of dangerous gangs lurking in the shadows. Fierce energies tear at the fabric of reality to reveal the wondrous next step in man's evolution.