The Argentinian struck from close range with six minutes of the first leg remaining as City came from behind to condemn the Portuguese champions to a rare defeat at the Estadio do Dragao.
The hosts took a 27th-minute lead through Silvestre Varela, but an Alvaro Pereira own goal gifted City an equaliser.
City, who may have been disappointed to be playing in the competition after their Champions League elimination, will now be confident of completing the job at the Etihad Stadium next Wednesday evening.
Any suggestions the Premier League leaders may not have been interested were dispelled as manager Roberto Mancini fielded a strong side.
They were up against strong opposition in a Porto team which won the Europa League last year and had not been beaten at home in a major competition all season.
Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli both returned after international duty and suspension respectively while further forward drive came from David Silva and Samir Nasri.
It was not all attack as Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong started in midfield but Toure initially seemed keen to get forward and remind City of what they have badly missed in recent weeks.
Silva beat Maicon with a nice piece of skill and released Toure in the opening minutes but the Brazilian defender got back to deny the African Nations Cup finalist.
City made a steady start but Gael Clichy was rushed into a clearance as Hulk pressured him inside his own area and Vincent Kompany hacked away after James Rodriguez beat Micah Richards to cross.
Porto had the first serious chance of the game when Rolando saw a header deflected over for a corner by Clichy.
Joao Moutinho then tried his luck from distance but fired wide of the target.
City then had a good spell, forcing Helton to make three saves in quick succession.
The Porto goalkeeper first blocked as Balotelli helped on a free-kick - awarded after Danilo injured himself fouling Toure and was carried off - unconvincingly.
He then did much better to turn a long-range drive from Richards and another attempt from Nasri behind.
Porto responded by applying some pressure themselves with Alvaro Pereira, Hulk and Rodriguez troubling the City defence with dangerous runs.
Toure was booked for bringing down Rodriguez while Hulk appealed in vain for a penalty after going down under a Kompany challenge.
The hosts claimed the lead as Hulk broke down the left and crossed low for Varela, who got ahead of Clichy to turn the ball in from close range.
City had a chance to equalise immediately but Helton again did well to deny Balotelli after the Italian was put through by Nasri.
Porto had another good chance before the break as Lucho Gonzalez struck a fierce shot from a corner but Joleon Lescott blocked before Hulk shot over.
City started the second half well as Richards burst into the box and struck the base of the post with a low drive.
The visitors continued to show attacking intent but benefited from a stroke of luck as they equalised after 55 minutes.
Pereira tried to cut out a Toure cross aimed at Balotelli but the ball struck his shoulder and bounced beyond a wrong-footed Helton into the net.
Porto quickly looked to re-establish their advantage and won a free-kick when Kompany, who was booked, felled Hulk.
De Jong was also shown a yellow card as he rushed to charge down Hulk's shot too quickly and then Joe Hart needed to make a smart save to keep out the Porto star's second attempt.
In a flurry of bookings, Barry also had his name taken after a foul on Rodriguez and Nasri joined him after tripping Hulk.
Hulk won and took another free-kick but Hart claimed his ball into the box with ease.
Richards thought he had found a gap as he raced through after exchanging passes with Toure but was flagged offside.
City made a crucial substitution with 12 minutes remaining as Aguero came on to replace Balotelli, who was booed off the field by the home fans.
It was a change which paid off within six minutes as Nasri played in Toure and he pulled back for an unmarked Aguero to calmly side-foot the winner from six yards.
Richards became the sixth City player booked in injury time.