Akira is commonly regarded as one of the greatest animated films of the 1980s. The cyberpunk anime struck a chord with Japanese and Western audiences with its apocalyptic tale of an unhinged teenage rebel who harbors unbelievable psychic powers. In North America, Akira shattered the archaic perception of animation only being for kids by delivering a powerful, mature story soaked in blood, gore, sex, and profanity. To this day, animation and live-action filmmakers look to Akira as inspiration for creating a visually-captivating films.
Despite all this, the animated Akira movie isn't absolute. The film is actually an abridged version of the larger-than-life saga found in the original manga, and there are tons of differences between the Akira anime and manga. While Katsuhiro Otomo — the author and illustrator of the Akira manga — directed the anime film adaptation himself, he didn't include every remarkable event found in the source material. This is undertstandable, as the Akira manga is over 2,000 pages long; it's simply impossible to successfully squeeze eight years of content into a two-hour film. This means that anime-only Akira fans have missed out on some significant characters, scenes, and relationships from the book.
The anime version of Akira ostensibly bookends the sprawling story told by the manga. Both are spearheaded by the same creator, Katsuhiro Otomo, and the two works start and end on the same plot points. However, the Akira manga takes a longer, richer, and more thought-provoking path to its galaxy-creating conclusion.
The anime version of Akira lacks a larger exploration of the Mad Max-style world of Neo-Tokyo, and the battle for supremacy fought between the city's government and rebel groups is mostly implied. It also does not provide a deep examination of the inhuman psychics' origin story, and the characters' drug problems are much more fleshed out in the written version. The Akira movie is a delicious taste of Otomo's work, but anyone wanting the full scoop needs to check out the entire manga series.
Kaneda Shotaro is basically the same person in the anime and the manga. Through thick and thin, Kaneda remains a gold-hearted yet regretfully spontaneous rebel who fearlessly leads a biker gang called The Capsules. However, the manga makes Kaneda share the spotlight with a variety of other interesting characters.
Akira the manga is a larger-than-life story that follows the lives of several different people inhabiting Neo-Tokyo. While Kaneda is still a major player, there are also other gang members fighting for control of the city, as well as a police force dead set on maintaining total control. Dangerous psychics like The Eggman — a heavily-built man who fights off US marines — are also residents of Neo-Tokyo, but you don't get a glimpse of that in the anime.
There's more to the world of Akira than Kaneda, but the anime only had enough time to share his side of the story.
The backbone of Akira is the brotherly relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo. Both men have known each other since they were kids living at an orphanage, and they've looked out for each other ever since. In Kaneda's case, he's been more of the protector than the protectee.
Their relationship causes Kaneda to take responsibility for stopping Tetsuo after his highly destructive powers become apparent. In the anime, Kaneda's ultimate goal is to guide Tetsuo back to the path of good, but in the manga, he's much more willing to put Tetsuo down in order to save the world. This is exemplified by the way the pair's final fight plays out; in the anime, the battle begins with playful banter, as Kaneda is hoping to reason with his old friend. In the manga, Kaneda just goes straight for the kill.
Movie viewers might have found it odd that Akira — the titular god-like psychic child — never physically appears in the anime. Outside of premonitions, Akira only exists as remnants that were cryogenically frozen underground for future scientists to study.
In the manga, however, Tetsu unleashes Akira from his underground prison, and he quickly becomes a deity for the rebellious youths of Neo-Tokyo to worship. Despite being a major player in the manga, Akira remains a mysterious character, and his presence only serves to underscore his terrible power.