A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath who can only be stopped by two teenagers and a group of psychics.
2019. 31 years after being destroyed during World War 3, Tokyo (now 'Neo-Tokyo') has been rebuilt and is a thriving metropolis. Shotaro Kaneda is the leader of a biker gang. His friend Tetsuo is injured in an accident and taken to a top-secret government facility. He develops telekinetic powers but decides to use them for evil rather than good. He has the same powers as Akira, the force that destroyed Tokyo in 1988, and now it appears that history will repeat itself.
Kaneda is a bike gang leader whose close friend Tetsuo gets involved in a government secret project known as Akira. On his way to save Tetsuo, Kaneda runs into a group of anti-government activists, greedy politicians, irresponsible scientists and a powerful military leader. The confrontation sparks off Tetsuo's supernatural power leading to bloody death, a coup attempt and the final battle in Tokyo Olympiad where Akira's secrets were buried 30 years ago.
- On July 16, 1988 an atom bomb vaporizes Tokyo. 31 years after WW3 in 2019, Neo-Tokyo has risen, a decrepit city filled with violence and desolation. In a grungy part of town, a man goes to a bar where the bartender (Yôsuke Akimoto) sells drugs to a customer and the TV recaps the day's news. There is unrest due to unemployment and a bad economy. A young man, wearing a red biker suit, enters the bar and gathers some friends from a back room, announcing that they will be going after the Clowns, a rival bike gang, on Route 5. Outside, a younger teen, Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki, English: Jan Rabson), is admiring a bright red motorcycle with special technical features. Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata, English: Cam Clarke), the youth in the red suit and the leader of the Capsules biker gang, walks out of the bar and mocks Tetsuo, telling him he doesn't possess the skill to operate the bike, which belongs to Kaneda. The bosozoku gang rides out into the night.
They meet the Clowns at the designated area, chasing them through the skyscraper district where the Clowns are knocked off their bikes. Bystanders watch as nearby cars are damaged and bombed by the violence. In the skirmish, Tetsuo wipes out and is left alone as the police arrive and the gangs split up.
A wounded man, dripping blood, leads a short, green-skinned person through the night streets. He pulls a gun and shoots a pair of pursuing dogs. The man is eventually stopped by police near a group of rioting protesters and, in the chaos, is shot to death. The little green person cries out in terror as a building begins to collapse. The crowd scrambles for safety and a mustached man and his companion, a young woman named Kei (Mami Koyama, English: Lara Cody), are split up.
Meanwhile, Kaneda's gang continues to pursue the Clowns. Tetsuo chases a Clown on his own and they approach the scene where police are attempting to hold back rioters with water cannons and tear gas. Tetsuo closes in on the Clown, wearing a red cross logo, as the rider wipes out. Tetsuo rides by and viciously hits the downed man on the head. When Tetsuo looks up, he sees the green person standing in his path. There is a crash and an explosion. Kaneda and the rest of the gang arrive on the scene to find Tetsuo semi-conscious in the street while the green person walks away, unhurt. Kaneda calls out to him but the person disappears into the darkness. A second green-skinned person then arrives in a hovering chair and speaks to the other in a child's voice, beckoning him to return and saying 'there is no escape'. A helicopter with an armed paramilitary group lands in the square and forces the Capsules gang to the ground as a tall man with a jarhead haircut emerges from the helicopter. Colonel Shikishima (Tarô Ishida, English: Tony Pope) sends Tetsuo to the hospital while Kaneda and his gang are taken into custody before he leaves in the helicopter with the two green children.
At the police station, Kaneda and his gang are interrogated, while feigning innocence. Eight of the Clowns have been put in the hospital, but they come up with an alibi; Being that they were going to visit his dying mother and got attacked by the clowns. The police check their alibi put them on a bench, where several members of the street riot are also awaiting interrogation. Kaneda notices Kei being held with another group of suspects. Suddenly, a radical member of the freedom revolution goes mad and activates a grenade in the middle of the station, attempting to kill himself and the police. The grenade, however, turns out to be defective, and the nearby police subdue him. The other police officers then inform the capsules that they have contacted their school and therefore find their alibi plausible, releasing them from custody. Kaneda uses this as an opportunity to free Kei as well by stating that she's one of them too. Unknown to him, she is a member of a terrorist organization though she teases him for attempting to flirt by freeing her before she slips away. Still not knowing her name, Kaneda yells at her, right as an explosion happens at the police station.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Tetsuo is placed in a full-body scanner. His status is overseen by Doctor Onishi (Mizuho Suzuki, English: Lewis Arquette), who suddenly makes an alarming discovery. He contacts Shikishima who is in a meeting with a politician, discussing a possible 'mole' on the Executive Council. Arriving at the hospital, Shikishima is told by Onishi that Tetsuo possesses psychic abilities similar to Akira, a young esper like the two green children, who caused the nuclear-like destruction of Tokyo 31 years prior. Project Akira was sprung from a secret government lab run by a dissident, underground terrorist group, but there was an error involving the growth pattern. Onishi claims that Tetsuo possesses the key to solving that dilemma. However, Shikishima is concerned about Tetsuo's power and, after receiving a prophesy from the esper Kiyoko (Fukue Itô, English: Melora Harte) envisioning Neo-Tokyo's destruction, instructs Onishi to kill Tetsuo if he thinks the power might get out of control.
Once awakened, however, Tetsuo escapes from the hospital and makes his way toward the hideout for the Capsules gang in a vandalized wreck of a building. There, the rest of the gang is recuperating with girlfriends from the evening's events, discussing their surprise of the cooperation between police and the army. A timid young girl, Kaori (Yuriko Fuchizaki, English: Michelle Ruff), expresses her concern for her boyfriend, Tetsuo. Suddenly, he appears and proposes that they run away together. They steal Kaneda's bike and ride off, but not before Kaneda and the others see him leaving.
Tetsuo and Kaori ride until the bike stalls. They are then confronted by three Clowns who accost Kaori and threaten to torch the bike. Kaneda and the rest of the Capsules arrive and help Tetsuo fight off the Clowns. Tetsuo, however, angry at having to be rescued, takes his frustrations out on a fallen Clown, kicking him fiercely. He begins to suffer a severe migraine, hallucinating that his internal organs have dropped out of his lower chest and hearing the word 'Akira'. Not a moment later, a CRC team arrives by armored vehicle and helicopters. Having pinpointed his location via a scanning device, Doctor Onishi has Tetsuo taken back to the hospital, leaving Kaneda and his gang to wonder about what's going on.
Nearby an explosion rocks a building and police shoot and kill fleeing armed men. Kaneda is drawn to the violence and sees a mustached man fleeing with Kei. Kaneda follows her as police flashlights bracket her attempt to escape. Kaneda assists Kei in escaping as a cop is shot and killed. When they reach the resistance headquarters, Kei frantically calls out for the mustached man named Ryu (Tesshô Genda, English: Bob Buchholz), while Kaneda tries to convince her to turn herself in for killing the officer (not knowing what's really happening). Just then, Ryu and some resistance fighters arrive and, mistaking Kaneda for a spy, lock him up inside a room. There, they discuss their earlier failed attempt at kidnapping #26, which turns out to be the first green esper child, Takashi (Tatsuhiko Nakamura, English: Barbara Goodson). He proposes a new plan to gain access to a government facility to find what they can on the newest subject: Tetsuo. After being discovered eavesdropping, Kaneda explains to the suspicious group that he and Tetsuo are best friends from the same gang and that he can help. Ryu seeks advice from a short, old man named Nezu (Hiroshi Ôtake, English: Mike Reynolds) who speaks of Akira as a symbol for hope and change while he watches the fires and protests in the city streets from afar.
Meanwhile, Tetsuo experiences memories from his days as a boy. Suddenly, his memories turn into a nightmarish hallucination. Colonel Shikishima approaches an aged green-skinned esper girl; Kiyoko, sitting inside a crib while Onishi scans readings. Kiyoko is seen to have a '25' tattooed on her palm. She makes an ominous prediction. Shikishima flies out with a few scientists and don parkas before entering a large, oval-like facility. They enter the frigid space and begin activating some of the equipment within. A massive door slowly opens and the Colonel enters the cavernous chamber. A small, red light and sign reads 'Akira 28'.
Colonel Shikishima then attends a meeting with the Supreme Executive Council where he is angered by the members' refusal to further fund his project. He questions them, stating that his intents are the duties of a soldier before he angrily, and abruptly, leaves. Council member Nezu smiles at the Colonel's distress.
In his hospital room within the government facility, Tetsuo experiences fantastic hallucinations of a toy rabbit, a teddy bear, a toy car and milk. Confused about what's happening, Tetsuo steps out on a glass and cuts his foot which startles the three green children responsible for the hallucinations; Takashi, Kiyoko, and Masaru (Kazuhiro Kamifuji, English: Bob Bergen). Frightened at the sight of blood, the esper children flee despite their attempt to kill Tetsuo. Angered and realizing the power he holds, Tetsuo chases after them through the hospital, killing anyone who stands in his way and wreaking havoc with his telekinetic abilities.
Meanwhile, the Resistance group, having made it into the facility disguised as electrical workers, are spotted sneaking in the sewers and a chase ensues. During the violent shootout, Kaneda manages to take over a flying platform, a small aerial vehicle flown by soldiers, and takes Kei as they flee the scene. However, they are quickly detained by soldiers. Using Kei as a medium and possessing her, Kiyoko leads them to a government nursery where Tetsuo is located. Kaneda faces Tetsuo, explaining that he's here to rescue him, but Tetsuo won't have it. He angrily retorts that he needs no rescuing now and, since he's discovered where Akira is, is eager to find out what he is, hoping to make his headaches go away. Possessing stronger powers than the three espers, Tetsuo manages to escape and uses his abilities to fly away; his destination is the Neo-Tokyo Olympic Stadium under which Akira is being held in a cryogenic storage facility.
Desperate to find and stop Tetsuo, Colonel Shikishima places Neo-Tokyo under martial law. Tetsuo leaves a trail of destruction through the city before he stops at the bar seen at the start of the film, still wearing his hospital gown, and approaches the bartender, now alone. Tetsuo demands 'capsules' before we see two of his fellow Capsule gang members, Yamagata (Masaaki Ôkura, English: Michael Lindsay) and Kai (Takeshi Kusao, English: Matthew Mercer) walk in from outside. They find the inside of the bar totally destroyed and the bartender lying dead as Tetsuo sits on a pile of rubble and furniture, giggling. Perplexed and disgusted, they wonder if the person they see is really Tetsuo or someone else. Tetsuo speaks to them cryptically before intimidating and attacking them.
Having been left behind and locked once more in a holding cell, Kei is used again by Kiyoko to speak to Kaneda, warning him of Tetsuo's immense power. The cell door unlocks and the two escape. Meanwhile, a government representative arrives to arrest Shikishima but the Colonel's men remain loyal to him and assist the Colonel in a coup d'etat. He mobilizes his men to the stadium. Nezu, the government mole, listens to this report from home and murders his staff before Ryu arrives to inform him of the mission's failure to capture Tetsuo. Nezu shoots him and leaves with a briefcase full of money. However, he later dies in an alley from a heart attack. Having followed him, Ryu also dies from his wounds.
Kai manages to find Kaneda and Kei at an urban water-filled ditch and explains that he and Yamagata found Tetsuo, who acted strangely and somehow killed Yamagata. Angered by the news of his friend's death, Kaneda vows vengeance. Takashi and Kiyoko then appear, beckoning Kei who walks over the water before disappearing. Kiyoko tells Kaneda and Kai that Tetsuo's powers have become unstable and they are trying to stop him. Kaneda argues that Tetsuo is his friend and that he is responsible for finding a way to defeat and kill him.
Tetsuo makes his way towards the stadium, killing soldiers in his path and destroying vehicles and helicopters. Possessed by Kiyoko once again, Kei attempts to fight him but is thrown aside. Tetsuo exhumes Akira's entire cryonic chamber from the ground and opens it but finds nothing aside from dissected body parts housed in individual canisters. Kaneda, armed with an experimental laser cannon, rides into the chaos and confronts Tetsuo. As they fight, Shikishima intervenes with an orbital weapon called SOL, the beam of which severs Tetsuo's right arm. Enraged, Tetsuo flies into space and rips SOL out of orbit, causing it to disintegrate in the atmosphere. He then returns to the stadium where Kaori arrives, finding him screaming in pain due to his intense powers while he synthesizes an artificial, mechanical arm using the remains from Akira. The arm seems to throb with a life of its own. Shikishima finds Tetsuo and explains to him that the espers' mind-controlling drugs administered to Tetsuo were meant to stunt the evolution of his uncontrollable abilities, but they are weakening. He pleads with Tetsuo to return to the hospital but Tetsuo attacks him. Shikishima shoots back and Kaneda appears, intervening.
The three espers arrive at the stadium and appear to try and communicate with the remains of Akira in the canisters. Unable to control his powers any longer, Tetsuo's body begins to morph: his arm transforms into a horrific blob that attempts to swallow the Colonel. Kaneda shoots it, causing it to recede but Tetsuo's entire body swells into a protoplasmic mutation, crushing Kaori to death in the process. Kaneda escapes as the espers awaken Akira; now appearing as a young boy without the need for a physical body. His appearance triggers a monstrous explosion and Kiyoko grabs Shikishima, transporting him to safety in the nick of time. Akira creates a blinding ball of energy that engulfs the entire city and begins to absorb Tetsuo who cries out for Kaneda's help. Desperate to save his friend, Kaneda follows Tetsuo into the energy sphere, followed closely by the three espers who are determined to save Kaneda, though they observe that they might not return.
Kaneda experiences Tetsuo's and Akira's childhood memories, seeing how much Tetsuo trusted Kaneda and witnessing how the three esper children were first studied upon just before Tokyo's destruction. The espers tell Tetsuo that Akira is sending him 'away', but somewhere safe as Kaneda is ejected from the inside of the sphere, just before it explodes. The explosion partially destroys most of Neo-Tokyo, leaving a gaping hole where the sphere was that is quickly flooded by the sea. Doctor Onishi is killed when his laboratory collapses.
Kaneda awakens and is reunited with Kei and Kai. Together, they ride away on their damaged bikes to start anew. Colonel Shikishima emerges from the tunnel where he was placed by Kiyoko and watches as the sun rises over the destroyed city.
Elsewhere, a cosmic 'bang' breaches the darkness and a voice speaks out, "I am Tetsuo." Coming into full control of his powers, he initiates a new universe.