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.
Tetsuo And Akira Join Forces
Tetsuo never gets the opportunity to shake hands with Akira in the anime, on the account of him being leftover frozen test tubes. However, in the manga, Tetsuo joins forces with Akira after awakening him from his cryogenic slumber. Akira is certainly the psychic brawn of partnership, and Tetsuo acts more like the brains, due to the titular child's lack of emotional presence.
While he carries a few child-like quirks, the Akira in the manga is mostly an empty shell of his former self, which makes him easy prey for manipulation. A standout scene from the manga involves Akira permitting Tetsuo to tear a massive hole in the Moon's surface as a demonstration of their deadly combined power.
Tetsuo Isn't Very Sympathetic
Both the anime and the manga portray Tetsuo as the runt of the pack. He's not the strongest fighter, nor is he the smartest, and he's constantly being bossed around by others. For this reason, it's not exactly surprising when Tetsuo uses his newfound psychic powers to finally beat respect into his peers.
In the manga, Tetsuo's character seems totally willing to become corrupted by his immense power. In contrast to this, the anime provides more scenes that explain why a weak-willed man like Tetsuo would give in and become evil. For example, in the anime, Tetsuo's rage is fueled in part by his failure to protect his girlfriend Kaori, who was physically assaulted by rival gang members. In the manga, Tetsuo exploits Kaori after she seeks his militia out in hopes of finding medicine for her sick father. Their relationship is horrifically toxic, and he regularly abuses her to appear tough.
Characters' Drug Use Is Much More Explicit In The Manga
In the Akira movie, characters are regularly seen popping ambiguous pills. While it's clear that not every pill seen in the film contains the same substance, the effects of the drugs are largely implied. The manga doesn't beat around the bush, and makes it clear from the start that pretty much all the characters have drug problems. When the story starts, Kaneda and his friends are explicitly shown trading "stimulants" in class, and their behavior mirrors that of real-life children who abuse ADHD medications like Adderall or Ritalin.
Shortly after Tetsuo starts guzzling pills by the handful, it's explained that the government started manufacturing a drug that boosts psychic energy as a means of controlling their new army of telekinetic children. When normal people take these pills, they suffer brain aneurysms, and die horribly painful deaths. Because of this, Tetsuo spends a lot of time in the manga dosing his underlings, just to watch them freak out. It's a horrific aspect of his character that isn't quite as obvious in the film.
Kaori’s Death Is Different Than The Anime
Kaori's love affair with Tetsuo is considerably darker in the manga, as is her final departure. In the movie, Kaori becomes a victim of Tetsuo's fleshy transformation, as she's squashed within his gigantic mass. In a striking change, Kaori's death in the manga is surprisingly grounded.
After learning that an aide of Tetsuo is planning on betraying him, Kaori runs to warn him, but is shot in the back by the betrayer. Tetsuo learns of her death, and eliminates the conspirators that were working against him. He tries to revive her with his psychic powers, but learns there are limits to what even he can do. After failing to save her, Tetsuo stores Kaori's body in Akira's cryogenic chamber, in the hopes of preserving her.