Background: Virtually all currently available microRNA target site prediction algorithms require the presence of a (conserved) seed match to the 5' end of the microRNA. Recently however, it has been shown that this equirement might be too stringent, leading to a substantial number of missed target sites. Results: We developed TargetSpy, a novel computational approach for predicting target sites regardless of the presence of a seed match. It is based on machine learning and automatic feature selection using a wide spectrum of compositional, structural, and base pairing features covering current biological knowledge. Our model does not rely on evolutionary conservation, which allows the detection of species-specific interactions and makes TargetSpy suitable for analyzing unconserved genomic sequences. In order to allow for an unbiased comparison of TargetSpy to other methods, we classified all algorithms into three groups: I) no seed match requirement, II) seed match requirement, and III) conserved seed match requirement. TargetSpy predictions for classes II and III are generated by appropriate postfiltering. On a human dataset revealing fold-change in protein production for five selected microRNAs our method shows superior performance in all classes. In Drosophila melanogaster not only our class II and III predictions are on par with other algorithms, but notably the class I (no-seed) predictions are just marginally less accurate. We estimate that TargetSpy predicts between 26 and 112 functional target sites without a seed match per microRNA that are missed by all other currently available algorithms. Conclusion: Only a few algorithms can predict target sites without demanding a seed match and TargetSpy demonstrates a substantial improvement in prediction accuracy in that class. Furthermore, when conservation and the presence of a seed match are required, the performance is comparable with state-of-the-art algorithms. TargetSpy was trained on mouse and performs well in human and drosophila, suggesting that it may be applicable to a broad range of species. Moreover, we have demonstrated that the application of machine learning techniques in combination with upcoming deep sequencing data results in a powerful microRNA target site prediction tool http://www.targetspy.org.